in that clear unpeopled space

Poem by Ranier Maria Rilke. [From Possibility of Being: A Selection of Poems translated by J.B. Leishman, 1957.]

This is the creature there has never been.
They never knew it, and yet, none the less,
they loved the way it moved, its suppleness,
its neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.

Not there, because they loved it, it behaved
as though it were. They always left some space.
And in that clear unpeopled space they saved
it lightly reared its head, with scarce a trace

of not being there. They fed it, not with corn,
but only with the possibility
of being. And that was able to confer

such strength, its brow put forth a horn. One horn.
Whitely it stole up to a maid – to be
within the silver mirror and in her.

Another translation by A. S. Kline (free online).

From Sonnets to Orpheus (II.4)

O this is the creature that has never been.
They never knew it and yet none the less
its movements, aspects, slender neck,
up to the still bright gaze, were loved.

True it never was, Yet because they loved, it was
a pure creature. They left it room enough.
And in that space, clear and un-peopled,
it raised its head lightly and scarcely needed

being. They didn’t nourish it with food,
but only with the possibility of being.
And that gave the creature so much power

that a horn grew from its brow. One horn.
In its whiteness it drew near a virgin girl –
and was in the mirror’s silver and in her.

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