When was the last time you started a inter-office memo with a Shakespeare quote? How often do you read a poem to the team in an all-hands meeting? Do you keep your favorite poetry collection in your desk drawer? This is hard-core business, not some fluff. We can afford to spend time on reading poems to each other. What if you can’t afford not to read poems?

Some years ago I added a quote – I believe it was from the Scottish Play – or was it from Plato’s Phaedrus? – at the beginning a product marketing document for an digital magazine software. I got some weird looks when I presented the document. Until people realized that the quote was spot-on, invited to think beyond the inevitable feature-creep and the missed deadlines of the MVP (the minimum viable product that was neither minimal nor viable).

Try it and you shall see what happens…

Meindert Hobbema  (1638 – 1709),   The Avenue at Middelharnis     1689

Meindert Hobbema (1638 – 1709), The Avenue at Middelharnis 1689

FALL • Autumn • HERBST

Autumn brings both, successful completion and with it decay and death. And both have in them the power of renewal. With Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Hanukkah, and Christmas we tend to overlook the quiet moments that fall offers. Like pumpkins and candy defining a time that tries to quiet down, it proved to be difficult to find poems that balance the power and the abandonment of fall. And as much as I am never sure of the English translations of Rilke, here are two and finally a sonnet from the Bard. End beyond that – Celan.

evening house silhuette.jpg


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los. 

Befiehl den letzten Fruchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süsse in den schweren Wein. 

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blatter treiben. 

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, 21. September 1902
Buch der Bilder


Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;|
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no home, will never build one now.
Whoever is alone will find himself alone for long
will stay awake and read and write long letters,
and wander the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell, with some adaptation of the third verse. “The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke" (Random House) [thanks M. for this version]



Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris 11. September 1902


The leaves are falling, falling as from far 
as if withered in the distant gardens of heaven; 
They’re falling with a gesture that waves “no”.

And in the nights the heavy Earth 
falls from all the stars into solitude

We all are falling. This hand falls, as it extends. 
And take a look at others. It's in them all.

And yet there's One, holding this fall 
With endless gentleness in both his hands.

(adapted from multiple translations)


You may also wish to read “The Heat of Autumn” by Jane Hirshfield. from After. 2006


Sonnet 73

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 73  source

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest;
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by;
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Tallow Light

The monks with hairy fingers opened the book: September.
Now Jason pelts with snow the newly sprouting grain.
The forest gave you a necklace of hands. So dead you walk the rope.
To your hair a darker blue is imparted; I speak of love.
Shells I speak and light clouds, and a boat buds in the rain.
A little stallion gallops across the leafing fingers--
Black the gate leaps open, I sing:
How did we live here?

(trans. by Michael Hamburger) 


Die Mönche mit haarigen Fingern schlugen das Buch auf: September.
Jason wirft nun mit Schnee nach der aufgegangenen Saat.
Ein Halsband aus Händen gab dir der Wald, so schreitest du tot übers Seil.
Ein dunkleres Blau wird zuteil deinem Haar, und ich rede von Liebe.
Muscheln red ich und leichtes Gewölk, und ein Boot knospt im Regen.
Ein kleiner Hengst jagt über die blätternden Finger –
Schwarz springt das Tor auf, ich singe:
Wie lebten wir hier?

Paul Celan: Mohn und Gedächtnis