“Dove, That Stayed Outside” (or, as translator Stephen Mitchell titles it, “Dove That Ventured Outside”) is a short poem of twelve lines divided into three stanzas of four lines each. The meter of the original poem is predominantly dactylic, and the German rhymes aabb, cdcd, eeff. The poem is graphically striking, because it is divided vertically down its center by a break in the text, a blank space that runs through the middle of all three stanzas. This blank space reinforces the central theme of the poem, which is separation. The two parts of the poem are physically separated from one another by the blank space, but they nevertheless form the unified whole of the text.
This text is part of an exchange of letters, written in the form of poems between 1924 and 1926, between Rainer Maria Rilke and the eighteen-year-old Austrian writer Erika Mitterer (the Erika to whom the poem is addressed). This particular poem was dated August 24, 1926, only four months before Rilke died. It is in response to Mitterer’s discussion of surviving a near encounter with death after a serious operation. The “festival of praising” referred to is the joy of praising life itself after a brush with death.
The first stanza describes the feeling of the dove that remains outside the dovecote and that is, therefore, united directly with the night and day. This dove that remains outside knows the mystery of the dangers and fears that...
(The entire section is 401 words.)