May I speak
of having lips
The poem reverses the normative and traditional symbolism so that we see its original referent, the woman, Mary, mother of Jesus. The images are sensual and provocative. The narrator's relationship with the "rose" is suffused with erotic undertones. But the rose also has maternal and domestic elements that counter the eroticism. The petals like the arms of a mother embrace the narrator.
with me inside
Death has so often in Renaissance art been equated with a sexual climax --in this poem the Blue Lord, the Father in the Christian Trinity, dies like the fading phallus after love making. The poem ends with the moral:
which again has numerous allusions and possible interpretations. One might read it as a warning to lovers, or as a celebration of the procreative act --whatever the interpretation the poem has over all a potential to disturb and unsettle the reader, demanding us to ask profound questions about our spirituality and our sexuality.
Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust
Niemandes Sclaf zu sein unter soviel
Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one's sleep, under so
in the SELECTED POETRY OF RAINER MARIA RILKE edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, (London: Pan Books, 1987). p. 279.