We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us
a false impression. The world’s stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performances may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.
But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you dissapeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.
We keep on playiing, still anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, accompanied by matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times
overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogehter the applause.
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
"On Hearing of a Death" by Rainer Maria Rilke is a poignant and reflective poem that explores the emotional impact of hearing about someone's death. Through its somber and contemplative tone, the poem delves into themes of mortality, the passage of time, and the human experience of grief.
The poem opens with the speaker's acknowledgment of receiving news of a death, which serves as the catalyst for their reflections. The immediate emotional response is conveyed through the phrase "you were left / to go on alone."
Rilke employs vivid and sensory language to describe the natural world, invoking images of "vast silence" and "invisible distances." This imagery mirrors the sense of emptiness and isolation that often accompanies the news of a death.
The poem's central theme revolves around the idea that when someone dies, a part of the living dies with them. The line "a part of you has died with them" reflects the profound emotional impact of losing a loved one and the sense of connection that is severed.
The poem's structure and language are relatively simple, but they carry a depth of emotion and meaning. The tone is introspective, and the speaker contemplates the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of death.
The poem concludes with the idea that while the departed may be physically absent, their memory and influence endure in the hearts and minds of those who remember them. This theme underscores the idea that death does not completely sever the bonds of love and connection.
"On Hearing of a Death" is a moving exploration of the emotional response to news of a death and the enduring impact of loss on the living. It speaks to the universal experience of grief and the profound way in which death can reshape our understanding of life and the connections we share with others. Rilke's poem invites readers to reflect on their own experiences of loss and the enduring presence of those they have loved and lost.