The Man Watching (II)

What we triumph over is so small,
and the victory makes us small too.
The eternal and uncommon
refuses to be bent by us.
Like the angel who appeared
to the wrestler in the Old Testament:
when his opponent’s sinews
grow hard as metal in the struggle,
they feel to his fingers like strings
on which to play a depthless melody.

Whoever is conquered by this angel
when the angel does not refuse to fight
walks away erect and ennobled,
strengthened by that fierce hand
that, like a sculptor’s, shaped him.
Winning does not tempt that man.
His growth is this: to be defeated
by ever greater forces.

— Rilke, Book of Images

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