Poet and Preacher: by Maurice Andrew

Maurice Andrew seems to be enjoying a long retirement in Dunedin.  He completed his outstanding academic career as Principal at Knox College a wee while ago now

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) held a high view of the poet’s calling. It is probably expressed most directly in his poem “O tell us, poet, what you do. – I praise.” (“O sage Dichter, was du tust. Ich rühme.” ‘Rühmen’ is not the only word for ‘praise’ in German, and there is a touch of the exultant about it.)

My translation of Rilke’s poem is below, and then my interpretation of it (“Homiletics”). My interpretation makes an application to the preacher rather than to the poet. In other words, Rilke’s poem set me thinking and writing about “what the preacher does”.

Rilke (translation):

You tell us, poet, what you do. – I praise.

But the deadly and the monstrous,

how can you bear it, how accept it? – I praise.

But the nameless, the anonymous,

how, poet, still address that? – I praise.

From where your claim to truth

in every disguise, under every mask? – I praise.

And that the calm and the tempestuous

acknowledge you as star and storm?: – Because I praise.


You tell us, preacher, what you do.

I praise.

But the violence and the terror,

how can you bear it,  what do you say?

I lament.

But the untold, injustice concealed,

preacher, how answer that?

I agonise.

By what right, masking your

sexuality, do you claim truth?

I confess.

And that you are known

in the fire and the crushed silence,

in the storm after the calm?

Because I praise!

Of  course preachers themselves may legitimately take the place of the questioner in the poem both against themselves and others. The poem is at most an ambiguous aspiration.

2 thoughts on “Poet and Preacher: by Maurice Andrew

  1. Thanks Prof Andrew you are a perceptive as ever and the poem is very helpful. I would like to share the direct translation with our congregation so they can also be blessed..
    Warm regards
    Donald Hegan


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