I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and wants during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.
I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowehere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everyday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.
—Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. by Annemarie S. Kidder)
There are many things that stick out to me about this poem, some of which include the imagery and the workings of the lines both separately and together, but I think the poem hinges on the two lines where the word “enough” is left standing alone. I’ve read this poem many times and taught it in class, but I’m not sure how deeply I’ve ever really considered the heart of this poem. The poem is about love, obviously, and loneliness, and the difficulty of what we want, whether it is love or freedom or anything else. The speaker in this poem is fickle. He is much too alone, but not alone enough, and much too small, but not small enough. He wants to know everything or know nothing. It’s almost like there is no middle ground, no happy balance. So, that begs the question: what is enough?
How alone is alone enough? How small is small enough? How much is enough to make us matter, to give us meaning? There is a lot of desire and longing in this poem, and it is almost as if the speaker is longing for this perfect state of being and this perfect state of love. I think the speaker is a little naive; he knows he’s not there, yet, but I’m not entirely sure he’s realized that he may never make it. That doesn’t mean ideal love doesn’t exist, but it does mean ideal love exists in ways and forms we don’t realize. To a lot of people, the poem offers hope and inspiration to be all of these things, to be just enough, but I wonder if even that is fulfilling.
I love this poem, but today I really just want the speaker to throw all thought and analysis away and take action. Stop thinking, stop talking, and just do. If I’ve learned anything for this new year, for the year before I turn 30, I’ve realized that it’s best to be actively living and failing than to live safely, alone and small. I want to unfold, but not into perfection.