You must change your life.

While working on a flyer for some upcoming performances, Jonathan Baxter introduced me to these two poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Panther

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translation by Stephen Mitchell

The story is that while Rilke was working for Rodin, the sculptor gave him assignments to go to the zoo and look and to go to the Louvre and write about something he saw. These poems resulted from his encounters.

Since I was introduced to these words they have circled in my mind like a panther pacing a cage; the resonance goes beyond my interest in the subject matter. What strikes me most is the power of these encounters, the caged animal and work of art, each experience has the power to change you, each insists that you must change. Perhaps I must.

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