In 1905 Rainer Maria Rilke moved to Meudon, France to take a job as secretary to Rodin. When Rilke told Rodin that he had not been writing lately, Rodin's advice was to go to the zoo (the Jardin des Plantes) and look at an animal until he truly saw it. So Rilke did. This is what he wrote:

Der Panther

Im Jardin des Plantes, Paris

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf--. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille--
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

On mauler's translation: Rilke's "The Pather" is notorious as one of the hardest poems to translate because it has such powerful imagery and is also has such a strict meter. In my translation I have not tried to retain the rhyme but rather have tried to stay as close to the original sense of the imagery as I could.

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His gaze has, from the passing-by of the bars,
so exhausted become, that it holds nothing more.
He feels as if there were a thousand bars
and behind a thousand bars no world.

The soft course of lithe, strong steps,
which in ever-smaller circles turn,
is like a dance of power around a center,
in which, benumbed, a mighty will stands.

Only sometimes the curtain of the pupil pushes
itself noiselessly up—. Then an image enters,
passes through the limbs’ taut stillness—
and dies in the heart.

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