meaning to this splendidly touched up family portrait (the poet's
father in the officer's uniform he wore in his pre-railway days):
Du schnell vergehendes Dagutrrotyp \ in meimn langsamer vergehenden
Handen: faded old portrait from the days when photography be-
gan, in my hands that fade too, though less quickly (but this, the
Kunsfding I have made of it - if it is such - will not fade). Geburt
der Venus would be no picture at all if Lessing's dictum were true
that description seriatim is futile because we see only one detail at
a time. Rilke paints a picture of Venus from top to toe, with shift-
ing light and shade. The poem thrills, however, not by the elabor-
ation of a picture but by the consistent visualization of the process
of birth (Venus does not rise from the sea, but is literally born
from the broad vulva of waves rimmed with pubic hair of foam)
and the surprises of the imagery which fondle the divine limbs,
not, however, as in certain full-length erotic portraits,1 merely as
a prurient pretext to throw the sexual parts into relief, but with a
cool detachment which fastens on the symbolic newness of the
Und in dem Keich des Beckens lag der lueib
me eimjunge Frucbt in ernes Kindes Hand.
In seines labels engem Becher war
das gan^e Dimhel dieses fallen Lebens.
Darunter bob sich licht die klerne Wrelle
und floss bestandig uber nach den Lender?^
wo dann und wann ein stilks EJesehi war.
Durchschimen aber und noch ohne S chat ten >
wie ein Bestand von Btrken im April.,
y leer und unwrborgen^ lag die Scham.
The wind freshens and fills the new breasts so that like sails full
of distance they float the diaphanous maiden to the shore. And at
noon, in the heaviest hour, the sea once more rises and casts a
dolphin on to the self-same stretch of sand - (Tof, rot und offerf*
Life is born of death . . .
The full sense of some of the poems can only be gathered from
knowledge of Rilke's previous books or of his correspondence;
thus Der Aus^ug des verlorenen Sohnes is clarified by the light of the
passage in Malte\ 'Man wird mich schwer davon uber^ugeny doss die
1 Shakespeare's Venus and Adorns, J. C Gunther's 'Bridal N'tgbt poem.