Daniel Tobin

Rilke 5 Translations
March 19, 2024 Tobin Daniel


After Rilke


Almost like on the last day when the dead tear
themselves from Earth’s embrace and vanish
into the heavens, and the globe itself hurtles
after them, so now we, living, nearly plummet
into the ground, and ground, earth’s empire,
sinks heavily back through the world’s layers
into primaeval slime. Dumb, with blank fisheyes,
destinies crisscross together there in the cold,
while out of long tubules, like sea-anemones,
wounds flourish in splendor. From the mass,
horrid, a groping feeler borne along on the flux
wends toward whatever it would seize. There,
out of skeletal limestone, the ash-gray coral’s
rigorous terror still forms, quietly branching.





through which birds hurl themselves is not
the intimate where known forms manifest.
(Out in the open, there you would vanish
without ever coming back, entirely lost.)


From each of us space reaches and carries
everything over: to realize a tree’s tree-ness,
fling inner space around it from the vastness
that lives in you. Compass it with discipline—
it’s being is boundless. Only through the limits
of your yielding does the tree become as it is.


(after Rilke)




Un-resting scales
of life always swaying,
how rarely does a fit
weight dare to affirm
its burden against
the forever-teetering

Just over there,
at peace: Death’s scales.
Space on the sibling
pans, equivalent
space. And beside it,
all the weights of equanimity,
shining, unequivocal.





After Rilke

Along this roadside drenched in sun
from a hollowed-out log fallen
long ago, so it’s become a trough
whose shallows are topped-off
with rain, I ease my thirst: taking in
the water’s pleasure and its origin
through my hands and wrists alone.
To drink seems to me too much,
too obvious, but this reticent gesture
instills my thought with pristine water.


Just so, if you came to me, I would
need to still myself—barely a touch
of my hands on your ripened shoulder,
barely on the full insistence of your breast.





For Veronika Erdmann


That such a calling should be our calling—
how much obedience, how much pure joy.
Oh, between our lines the Earth is singing
and hurtles us on from din to symphony.


Or is it clash and backlash that better
forwards us to true things from the throng?
The intensest love: is it a knife-less killer?
And is life’s most threatened feature: song?

Daniel Tobin is the author of seven books of poems, most recently Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), The Net, and From Nothing, as well as the critical studies Passage to the Center and Awake in America: On Irish-American Poetry.  He is the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems of Lola RidgePoet’s Work, Poet’s Play and The Collected Early Poems of Lola Ridge (Spring 2017). His awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.