Sujata Bhatt

Self-Portrait as a Soul

Paula Modersohn-Becker to Rainer Maria Rilke
                          2 November 1908

Rainer, dear friend, you are mistaken.
I am not a ghost.
I am not a forlorn shade that follows you.
It is your imagination,
your guilt, your regret that conjures me.

I have become the purest part of myself.

Once, we spent so many nights together –
                   we could never sleep.
We spoke of death and Tolstoy and God –
and woven through it all was love.

You asked me if I believed –

You said: ‘I can love you
                   only if you believe in God.’

I am dead now and I can tell you
that the living can never truly know God.

You have to die first.


This is a self-portrait that can never be painted.
Even my words cannot reach you now.
I want to tell you how the angels are not what you think.
And me?
I am tiny and yet vast,
I blaze with light and yet am full of darkness –

I cannot help you anymore.
It is you who must let go of me.
You who must return –
                return to the living.