The knight rides forth in coal-black steel
into the teeming world.
Outside his armor everything is there: sunlight and valley,
friend and foe and feast,
May, maiden, forest and grail,
and God himself in a thousand forms
to be found along every road.
But inside the armor darkly enclosing him
crouches death. And the thought comes
and comes again:
When will the blade
pierce this iron sheath,
the undeserved and liberating blade
that will fetch me from my hiding place
where I’ve been so long compressed —
so that, at last, I may stretch my limbs
and hear my full voice.
— Rilke, Book of Images
an alternate translation:
(Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans. A Harvest of German Verse. 1916.)
By Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)
THE KNIGHT rides forth in blackest mail,
The rustling world to meet.
Out there he finds all: the day and the dale
And the friend and the foe and the castle’s pale,
And fair May and fair maid and the woods and the grail, 5
And God Himself doth never fail
To stand upon the street.
But within the knightly armour yonder,
Behind that gloomy wringing,
Cowers death and has to ponder, ponder: 10
When will the blade come springing
Over the iron wall,
The stranger, freedom bringing,
That from my hiding-place shall call
Me forth, where I for many a day 15
Am waiting, crouched and clinging,
That I may stretch out, once for all,