“Lady on a balcony” by Rilke

Suddenly she steps, wrapped into the wind,
brightly into brightness, as if singled out,
while now the room as though cut to fit
behind her fills the door

darkly like the ground of cameo,
that lets a glimmer through at the edges;
and you think the evening wasn’t there
before she stepped out, and on the railing

set forth just a little of herself,
just her hands, -to be completely light:
as if passed on by the rows of houses
to the heavens, to be swayed by everything.

(Translated by Edward Snow)

This is another fine example of Rilke’s exquisite use of visual imagery . There is , to begin with, a suddenness in the way the lady steps onto the balcony and is “wrapped into the wind”. One can imagine her garments flowing as the wind has suddenly wrapped her . She has also stepped ‘brightly’ into the brightness as steps out from the darkness of the room into the daylight .Now comes a most beautiful image .The room as though cut to fit behind her fills the door. Wonderful visual imagination .Imagine we are looking at the lady from ,say, the balcony of another house and as she comes out of the door ,which has so far remained closed, suddenly a dim view of the room would present itself before you through the door which slowly opens filling itself with a fragment of the room .As the door fully opens the fragment slowly expands to become a much larger view of the room as the door fully opens.

The second visual image is the “cameo”. The cameo means an object shown in relief; in this case the lady on the balcony, seen from the vantage of another balcony appears in relief against the darkness of the room . “you think the evening wasn’t there /before she stepped out “ is a wonderful expression. It suggests that suddenly the evening has come into focus because you are looking at the lady on the balcony in the evening and in the context of the evening , she appearing like a cameo against the background of the physical space of the room as well as against time.

Lastly she appears with her hands resting on the railing like a cameo appearing against the rows of houses below her balcony and on all sides as though the rows of houses are passing on “her hands “ resting on the balcony railing , in luminous outline, to the heavens!


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