Thoughts & Insights

OUBEY, Rilke, The Panther and me

Despite the differences in our personal make-up, OUBEY and I were in perfect agreement when it came to what I’d call the main things in life. One of these points of common understanding was our love of poetry and especially the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke which had reached and moved both of us very early on in our lives before we met.

In the course of time some of these poems have become endowed with a special meaning and importance. One of them is “Der Panther”:


The Panther

In the Jardin des Plants, Paris

Striated by the bars in front, his sight

Has grown so weary it can hold no more

As though behind each thousand bars dim light

Reveals another thousand set by law.


His supple lithesome soft paw canter

In tiniest cramped circles realised

Is like a gig of strength in whose dead centre

A mighty will stands paralysed.


Yet sometimes, though, the pupils noiseless shutter

Is raised – then in an image well might dart

Across the limbs taut stillness flash and flutter

To end its being in the heart.


From: Rainer Maria Rilke – New Poems (1907)

Translation by Paul Morland


Specialists in German literature have often made brilliant analyses of how the powerful aesthetic at work in the poem derives from the masterly use of linguistic and non-linguistic elements. This is highly commendable and of great value.

Yet ultimately, for me, however, the particular level of the aesthetic impact made by this poem is that from the day I first read it many years ago up to the present I have never set foot in any zoo again.