The Beggars

By Rainer Maria Rilke 1875–1926

Translated By Michael Hofmann Read the translator's notes

You didn't know
what was in the heap. A visitor found
it to contain beggars. They sell the hollow
of their hands.

They show the sightseer
their mouths full of filth,
and let him (he can afford it) peer
at the mange eating away at them.

In their twisted vision
his stranger's face is skewed;
they are pleased with their accession,
and when he speaks they spew.

Source: Poetry (April 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2008
 Rainer Maria Rilke


Widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets, Rainer Maria Rilke was unique in his efforts to expand the realm of poetry through new uses of syntax and imagery and in the philosophy that his poems explored. With regard to the former, W. H. Auden declared in New Republic, "Rilke's most immediate and obvious influence has been upon diction and imagery." Rilke expressed ideas with "physical rather . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Class


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