Just now you still were, Bettina; I sense your presence. Does not the earth still bear your warmth? And do not the birds still leave a space for your voice? The dew is different, but the stars are still the stars of your nights. Or isn’t the whole world in fact yours? For how often you set it on fire with your love, and watched it burn and blaze, and secretly replaced it with another while everyone slept. You felt in such complete harmony with God when every morning you demanded a new world of Him, so that all the worlds He had made might have their turn. You thought it shabby to save them up or mend them; you used them up and held out your hands for more world, more. For your love was equal to anything.

How can it be that people are not still all talking about your love? What has happened since then that was more extraordinary? Whatever are they thinking of? You yourself were well aware of the value of your love, and spoke it aloud to your greatest of poets, that he might make it human; for as yet it was still elemental. But in writing to you, he persuaded people not to believe in it. Everyone has read those replies, and people place more credence in them, because the poet is more intelligible to them than Nature. But perhaps it will one day be seen that this marked the limit of his greatness. This woman in love was a challenge posed to him, and he was unequal to it.

Rainer Maria Rilke on Bettine von Arnim (from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)


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