Das Buch der Bilder; The Book of Images

[This page by Marielle Sutherland]

Das Buch der Bilder; The Book of Images (1906)

Das Buch der Bilder; The Book of Images (1906), like Rilke's previous collection, Das Stunden-Buch; The Book of Hours (1905) is still concerned with the potential for Romantic inwardness and spirituality through art. Loners and outcasts feature as figures who connect to another reality, and we see Rilke’s concern with solitude and the artistic need to withdraw from everyday reality. However, the collection also shows Rilke trying to find a new style as he explores the relationship between the poet as observer and the object of observation. The poems present portraits of different people, objects and events like a child’s picture book, e.g. a knight, a blind man, a statue, a fountain. In many poems in this collection Rilke begins to turn away from the self and its feelings and towards the things themselves with the poetic ‘I’ as an uninvolved observer.

Pont du Carrousel

Der blinde Mann, der auf der Brücke steht,

Grau wie ein Markstein namenloser Reiche,

Er ist vielleicht das Ding, das immer gleiche,

Um das von fern die Sternenstunde geht,

Und der Gestirne stiller Mittelpunkt.

Denn alles um ihm irrt und rinnt und prunkt.

Er ist der unbewegliche Gerechte,

In viele wirre Wege hingestellt;

Der dunkle Eingang in die Unterwelt

Bei einem oberflächlichen Geschlechte.

Pont du Carrousel

The blind man stands there on the bridge, and grey,

like the border stone of a nameless state,

he is perhaps the thing, the constant thing

round which the distant stellar hours spin,

the silent centre point of all the stars.

For all around him errs and flows and flaunts.

He is the just one, totally immovable,

set down amid the pathways of confusion;

the underworld’s dark and lonely portal

among a superficial generation.



The Pont du Carrousel is a bridge in Paris, and Rilke saw this blind man on the bridge when he lived there. Outsiders and blindness are recurring motifs in Rilke’s work, often idealised as uncorrrupted states of higher consciousness and insight. In this poem the blind man is the still, constant centre as life and the modern world turn and change breathlessly around him. He stands on a bridge and seems to mark a boundary into the unknown: he is a bridge to the ‘underworld’, a memento mori, for his blindness calls our attention to the encroaching darkness of death and its immutable certainty. Rilke demonstrates here a modernist anxiety about the modern world, about life lived at such fast pace that it merely skims the surface of human experience, suppressing death and any deeper connection to existence. Rhyme and rhythm are still very simple and the message is Romantic, but the blind man is a ‘thing’, a snapshot taken by a more detached eye.