The Visionary

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

Extract from The Visionary by Rainer Maria Rilke in The Book of Images, translated by Albert Ernest Flemming:

How little are the things with which we wrestle.

What with us wrestles, how much greater is!

If only we would let ourselves be conquered

as things are overcome by a great storm,

we would expand in time and space and need no names.

When we victorious are, it is over small things,

amd though we won, it leaves us feeling small.

What is eternal, and what is not common,

does not want to be bent by human strength.

This is the angel, who in ancient times

appeared to wrestlers of the Old Testament:

when his opponent’s sinews during fighting

began to stretch like long metallic strands

that felt beneath the angel’s gripping fingers

like singing strings responding with deep song.

Whoever was defeated by this angel –

and often one decided not to fight –

left walking proud and upright, full of strength, and greater still for having felt the power

of these strong hands that molded him,as if

to change his shape.

For winning does not tempt him!

The secret of his growing lies in this:

by being totally defeated and disarmed

by even greater forces and their cause.


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