You See I Want A Lot*

by Rainer Maria Rilke

You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness of each infinite fall,
the shivering blaze of each step up.
There are those who live on and want little
And are raised to the rank of prince
By the slippery ease of their light judgments
But what you love to see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
Most of all you love those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You are not too old, and it is not too late
To dive into the increasing depths
of your life where it calmly gives out its secret.

* “You See I Want A Lot” from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke: A Translation from the German and Commentary by Robert Bly. Copyright © 1981 by Robert Bly. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Poem Commentary

by Edward Espe Brown

Living the Life of Today: “You See, I Want a Lot”
Viewing a Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

“You see I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything.”
Rilke’s poem begins innocently enough.
We’re here to live life, are we not? 

When we first hear “everything,”
we have images ready: successful career,
loving, supportive relationships, family, in
service to the Sacred, happiness, joy, ease of
wellbeing, devotion, love. In the parlance of our
culture, “Have it your way,” or “Watch what you
want to watch when you want to watch it.” 

Yet Rilke’s poem has verticality:
“The darkness of each infinite fall,
the shivering blaze of each step up.”
Suddenly fear appears: Wait a minute,
what! Did I say, “everything?” Without any
warning we’re in over our heads: When, we
wonder, did I ever agree to this? And the others?
How did they escape? Rilke points to them: 

“There are those who live on
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.”
We notice that we are not rejoicing in their
status, nor are we empowered by their elevation. 

“But what you love to see are faces
that feel thirst and do work.” Here
the horizontal has gone three-dimensional:
Praise be! Another live one. Not only up and down,
but an inner life surfacing: joys and sorrows,
desires, longings — a soul being tempered.
Seeing those faces elicits a prayer, “Bring
me face to face, let my faces show these signs.” 

“Most of all you love those who need you
like a crowbar or a hoe.” The words become
more and more mysterious, as though praying
for those divine hands that know just how to
put your life to use. You love it when they go
to work with you in hand!

“It is not too late, and you are not too old
to dive into the increasing depths of your
life where it calmly gives out its secret.”
Curiously, of course, this diving is itself
the secret: when you are going down, agree
to the descent and keep your wits about you. 

Beneath the surface you come to rest and see with
fresh eyes. No longer struggling with what is appearing,
an underlying clarity is revealed:
You are you. Available for connection.
You take your place in the on-going conversation.
Flowing and unfolding.   

Blessed be.