Rainer Maria Rilke

Duino Elegies - The First Elegy

(Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note
of my dark sobbing. Ah, whom can we ever turn to
in our need? Not angels, not humans,
and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world. Perhaps there remains for us
some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take
into our vision; there remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite
space gnaws at our faces. Whom would it not remain for-that
longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence, which the solitary heart
so painfully meets. Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don't you know yet? Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Yes - the springtimes needed you. Often a star
was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you
out of the distant past, or as you walked
under an open window, a violin
yielded itself to your hearing. All this was mission.
But could you accomplish it? Weren't you always
distracted by expectation, as if every event
announced a beloved? (Where can you find a place
to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
going and coming and often staying all night.)
But when you feel longing, sing of women in love;
for their famous passion is still not immortal. Sing
of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising;
remember: the hero lives on; even his downfall was
merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back
into herself, as if there were not enough strength
to create them a second time. Have you imagined
Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl
deserted by her beloved might be inspired
by that fierce example of soaring, objectless love
and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her"?
Shouldn't this most ancient of sufferings finally grow
more fruitful for us? Isn't it time that we lovingly
freed ourselves from the beloved and, quivering, endured:
as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension, so that
gathered in the snap of release it can be more than
itself. For there is no place where we can remain.

Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only
saints have listened: until the gigantic call lifted them
off the ground; yet they kept on, impossibly,
kneeling and didn't notice at all:
so complete was their listening. Not that you could endure
God's voice -far from it. But listen to the voice of the wind
and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died
Didn't their fate, whenever you stepped into a church
in Naples or Rome, quietly come to address you?
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
as, last year, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance
of injustice about their death - which at times
slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things
in terms of a human future; no longer to be
what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave
even one's own first name behind, forgetting it
as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one's desires. Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction. And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity. -Though the living are wrong to believe
in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have
Angels (they say) don't know whether it is the living
they are moving among, or the dead. The eternal torrent
whirls all ages along in it, through both realms
forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.
In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys, as gently as children
outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers. But we, who do need
such great mysteries, we for whom grief is so often
the source of our spirit's growth-: could we exist without them?
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness;
and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god
had suddenly left forever, the Void felt for the first time
that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.

Elegy IV

O trees of life, oh, what when winter comes?
We are not of one mind. Are not like birds
in unison migrating. And overtaken,
overdue, we thrust ourselves into the wind
and fall to earth into indifferent ponds.
Blossoming and withering we comprehend as one.
And somewhere lions roam, quite unaware,
in their magnificence, of any weakness.

But we, while wholly concentrating on one thing,
already feel the pressure of another.
Hatred is our first response. And lovers,
are they not forever invading one another's
boundaries? -although they promised space,
hunting and homeland. Then, for a sketch
drawn at a moment's impulse, a ground of contrast
is prepared, painfully, so that we may see.
For they are most exact with us. We do not know
the contours of our feelings. We only know
what shapes them from the outside.

Who has not sat, afraid, before his own heart's
curtain? It lifted and displayed the scenery
of departure. Easy to understand. The well-known
garden swaying just a little. Then came the dancer.
Not he! Enough! However lightly he pretends to move:
he is just disguised, costumed, an ordinary man
who enters through the kitchen when coming home.
I will not have these half-filled human masks;
better the puppet. It at least is full.
I will endure this well-stuffed doll, the wire,
the face that is nothing but appearance. Here out front
I wait. Even if the lights go down and I am told:
"There's nothing more to come," -even if
the grayish drafts of emptiness come drifting down
from the deserted stage -even if not one
of my now silent forebears sits beside me
any longer, not a woman, not even a boy-
he with the brown and squinting eyes-:
I'll still remain. For one can always watch.

Am I not right? You, to whom life would taste
so bitter, Father, after you - for my sake -
slipped of mine, that first muddy infusion
of my necessity. You kept on tasting, Father,
as I kept on growing, troubled by the aftertaste
of my so strange a future as you kept searching
my unfocused gaze -you who, so often since
you died, have been afraid for my well-being,
within my deepest hope, relinquishing that calmness,
the realms of equanimity such as the dead possess
for my so small fate -Am I not right?

And you, my parents, am I not right? You who loved me
for that small beginning of my love for you
from which I always shyly turned away, because
the distance in your features grew, changed,
even while I loved it, into cosmic space
where you no longer were.: and when I feel
inclined to wait before the puppet stage, no,
rather to stare at is so intensely that in the end
to counter-balance my searching gaze, an angel
has to come as an actor, and begin manipulating
the lifeless bodies of the puppets to perform.
Angel and puppet! Now at last there is a play!
Then what we separate can come together by our
very presence. And only then the entire cycle
of our own life-seasons is revealed and set in motion.
Above, beyond us, the angel plays. Look:
must not the dying notice how unreal, how full
of pretense is all that we accomplish here, where
nothing is to be itself. O hours of childhood,
when behind each shape more that the past lay hidden,
when that which lay before us was not the future.

We grew, of course, and sometimes were impatient
in growing up, half for the sake of pleasing those
with nothing left but their own grown-upness.
Yet, when alone, we entertained ourselves
with what alone endures, we would stand there
in the infinite space that spans the world and toys,
upon a place, which from the first beginning
had been prepared to serve a pure event.

Who shows a child just as it stands? Who places him
within his constellation, with the measuring-rod
of distance in his hand. Who makes his death
from gray bread that grows hard, -or leaves
it there inside his rounded mouth, jagged as the core
of a sweet apple?...The minds of murderers
are easily comprehended. But this: to contain death,
the whole of death, even before life has begun,
to hold it all so gently within oneself,
and not be angry: that is indescribable.
What did you think

Elegy II

(Translated by A.S. Kline)

Every Angel is terror. And yet,
ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul. Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of the most radiant of you stood at the simple threshold,
disguised somewhat for the journey and already no longer awesome
(Like a youth, to the youth looking out curiously).
Let the Archangel now, the dangerous one, from behind the stars,
take a single step down and toward us: our own heart,
beating on high would beat us down. What are you?
Early successes, Creation's favourite ones,
mountain-chains, ridges reddened by dawns
of all origin - pollen of flowering godhead,
junctions of light, corridors, stairs, thrones,
spaces of being, shields of bliss, tempests
of storm-filled, delighted feeling and, suddenly, solitary
mirrors: gathering their own out-streamed beauty
back into their faces again.
For we, when we feel, evaporate: oh, we
breathe ourselves out and away: from ember to ember,
yielding us fainter fragrance. Then someone may say to us:
`Yes, you are in my blood, the room, the Spring-time
is filling with you'..... What use is that: they cannot hold us,
we vanish inside and around them. And those who are beautiful,
oh, who holds them back? Appearance, endlessly, stands up,
in their face, and goes by. Like dew from the morning grass,
what is ours rises from us, like the heat
from a dish that is warmed. O smile: where? O upward gaze:
new, warm, vanishing wave of the heart - :
oh, we are that. Does the cosmic space,
we dissolve into, taste of us then? Do the Angels
really only take back what is theirs, what has streamed out of them,
or is there sometimes, as if by an oversight, something
of our being, as well? Are we as mingled with their
features, as there is vagueness in the faces
of pregnant women? They do not see it in the swirling
return to themselves. (How should they see it?)
Lovers, if they knew how, might utter
strange things in night air. Since it seems
everything hides us. Look, trees exist; houses,
we live in, still stand. Only we
pass everything by, like an exchange of air.
And all is at one, in keeping us secret, half out of
shame perhaps, half out of inexpressible hope.
Lovers, each satisfied in the other, I ask
you about us. You grasp yourselves. Have you a sign?
Look, it happens to me, that at times my hands
become aware of each other, or that my worn face
hides itself in them. That gives me a slight
sensation. But who would dare to exist only for that?
You, though, who grow in the other's delight
until, overwhelmed, they beg:
`No more' -: you, who under your hands
grow richer like vintage years of the vine:
who sometimes vanish, because the other
has so gained the ascendancy: I ask you of us. I know
you touch so blissfully because the caress withholds,
because the place you cover so tenderly
does not disappear: because beneath it you feel
pure duration. So that you promise eternity
almost, from the embrace. And yet, when you've endured
the first terrible glances, and the yearning at windows,
and the first walk together, just once, through the garden:
Lovers, are you the same? When you raise yourselves
one to another's mouth, and hang there - sip against sip:
O, how strangely the drinker then escapes from their action.
Weren't you amazed by the caution of human gesture
on Attic steles? Weren't love and departure
laid so lightly on shoulders, they seemed to be made
of other matter than ours? Think of the hands
how they rest without weight, though there is power in the torso.
Those self-controlled ones know, through that: so much is ours,
this is us, to touch our own selves so: the gods
may bear down more heavily on us. But that is the gods' affair.
If only we too could discover a pure, contained
human place, a strip of fruitful land of our own,
between river and stone! For our own heart exceeds us,
even as theirs did. And we can no longer
gaze after it into images, that soothe it, or into
godlike bodies, where it restrains itself more completely.

The Third Elegy

To sing the beloved is one thing, another, oh,
that hidden guilty river-god of the blood.
What does he know, himself, of that lord of desire, her young lover,
whom she knows distantly, who often out of his solitariness,
before the girl soothed him, often, as if she did not exist,
held up, dripping, from what unknowable depths,
his godhead, oh, rousing the night to endless uproar?
O Neptune of the blood, O his trident of terrors.
O the dark storm-wind from his chest, out of the twisted conch.
Hear, how the night becomes thinned-out and hollow. You, stars,
is it not from you that the lover's joy in the beloved's
face rises? Does he not gain his innermost insight,
into her face's purity, from the pure stars?
It was not you, alas, not his mother
that bent the arc of his brow into such expectation.
Not for you, girl, feeling his presence, not for you,
did his lips curve into a more fruitful expression.
Do you truly think that your light entrance
rocked him so, you who wander like winds at dawn?
You terrified his heart, that's so: but more ancient terrors
plunged into him with the impetus of touching.
Call him...you can't quite call him away from that dark companion.
Of course he wants to, and does, escape: relieved, winning
his way into your secret heart, and takes on, and begins himself.
Did he ever begin himself, though?
Mother you made his littleness: you were the one who began him:
to you he was new, you hung the friendly world
over new eyes, and defended him from what was strange.
Oh where are the years when you simply repelled
the surging void for him, with your slight form?
You hid so much from him then: you made the suspect room
harmless at night, from your heart filled with refuge
mixed a more human space with his spaces of night.
Not in the darkness, no, in your nearer being
you placed the light, and it shone as if out of friendship.
There wasn't a single creaking you couldn't explain with a smile,
as if you had long known when the floor would do so....
And he heard you and was soothed. Your being
was so tenderly potent: his fate there stepped,
tall and cloaked, behind the wardrobe, and his restless future,
so easily delayed, fitted the folds of the curtain.
And he himself, as he lay there, relieved,
dissolving a sweetness, of your gentle creation,
under his sleepy eyelids, into the sleep he had tasted - :
seemed protected.....But inside: who could hinder,
prevent, the primal flood inside him?
Ah, there was little caution in the sleeper: sleeping,
but dreaming, but fevered: what began there!
How, new, fearful, he was tangled
in ever-spreading tendrils of inner event:
already twisted in patterns, in strangling growths,
among prowling bestial forms. How he gave himself to it -. Loved.
Loved his inward world, his inner wilderness,
that first world within, on whose mute overthrow
his heart stood, newly green. Loved. Relinquished it, went on,
through his own roots, to the vast fountain
where his little birth was already outlived. Lovingly
went down into more ancient bloodstreams, into ravines
where Horror lay, still gorged on his forefathers. And every
Terror knew him, winked, like an informant.
Yes, Dread smiled.........Seldom
have you smiled so tenderly, mothers. How could he
help loving what smiled at him. Before you
he loved it, since, while you carried him,
it was dissolved in the waters, that render the embryo light.
See, we don't love like flowers, in a
single year: when we love, an ancient
sap rises in our arms. O, girls,
this: that we loved inside us, not one to come, but
the immeasurable seething: not a single child,
but the fathers: resting on our depths
like the rubble of mountains: the dry river-beds
of those who were mothers - : the whole
silent landscape under a clouded or
clear destiny - : girls, this came before you.
And you yourself, how could you know - that you
stirred up primordial time in your lover. What feelings
welled up from lost lives. What
women hated you there. What sinister men
you roused up in his young veins. Dead
children wanted you.....O, gently, gently,
show him with love a confident daily task - lead him
near to the Garden, give him what outweighs
those nights........
Be in him...............

The Fifth Elegy

But who are they, tell me, these Travellers, even more
transient than we are ourselves, urgently, from their earliest days,
wrung out for whom - to please whom,
by a never-satisfied will? Yet it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, and swings them,
throws them, and catches them again: as if from oiled
more slippery air, so they land
on the threadbare carpet, worn by their continual
leaping, this carpet
lost in the universe.
Stuck on like a plaster, as if the suburban
sky had wounded the earth there.
And scarcely there,
upright, there and revealed: the great
capital letter of Being.........and already the ever-returning
grasp wrings the strongest of men again, in jest,
as King August the Strong would crush
a tin plate.
Ah, and around this
centre, the rose of watching
flowers and un-flowers. Round this
stamp, this pistil, caught in the pollen
of its own flowering, fertilised
again to a shadow-fruit of disinterest,
their never-conscious, seeming-to-smile, disinterest,
gleaming lightly, on surface thinness.
There, the withered, wrinkled lifter,
an old man, only a drummer now,
shrunk in his massive hide, as though it had once
contained two men, and one was already
lying there in the churchyard, and the other had survived him,
deaf, and sometimes a little
confused in his widowed skin.
And the young one, the man, as if he were son of a neck
and a nun: taut and erectly filled
with muscle and simple-mindedness.
O you,
that a sorrow, that was still small,
once received as a plaything, in one of its
long convalescences......
You, who fall, with the thud
that only fruit knows, unripe,
a hundred times a day from the tree of mutually
built-up movement (that, swifter than water,
in a few moments, shows spring, summer and autumn),
fall, and impact on the grave:
sometimes, in half-pauses, a loving look tries
to rise from your face towards your seldom
affectionate mother: but it loses itself in your body,
whose surface consumes the shy
scarcely-attempted look.....And again
the man is clapping his hands for your leap, and before
a pain can become more distinct, close to your
constantly racing heart, a burning grows in the soles of your feet,
its source, before a few quick tears rush bodily into your eyes.
And yet, blindly,
that smile........
Angel! O, gather it, pluck it, that small-flowered healing herb.
Make a vase, keep it safe! Place it among those joys not yet
open to us: on a lovely urn,
praise it, with flowery, swirling, inscription:
`Subrisio Saltat: the Saltimbanque's smile'
You, then, beloved,
you, that the loveliest delights
silently over-leapt. Perhaps
your frills are happy for you -
or the green metallic silk,
over your firm young breasts,
feels itself endlessly pampered, and needing nothing.
You, market fruit of serenity
laid out, endlessly, on all the quivering balance scales,
publicly, beneath the shoulders.
Where, oh where is the place - I carry it in my heart -
where they were still far from capable, still fell away
from each other, like coupling animals, not yet
ready for pairing: -
where the weights are still heavy:
where the plates still topple
from their vainly twirling
And, suddenly, in this troublesome nowhere, suddenly,
the unsayable point where the pure too-little
is changed incomprehensibly -, altered
into that empty too-much.
Where the many-placed calculation
is exactly resolved.
Squares: O square in Paris, endless show-place,
where the milliner, Madame Lamort,
winds and twists the restless trails of the earth,
endless ribbons, into new
bows, frills, flowers, rosettes, artificial fruits - all
falsely coloured, - for winter's
cheap hats of destiny.
Angel: if there were a place we know nothing of, and there,
on some unsayable carpet, lovers revealed
what here they could never master, their high daring
figures of heart's flight,
their towers of desire, their ladders,
long since standing where there was no ground, leaning,
trembling, on each other - and mastered them,
in front of the circle of watchers, the countless, soundless dead:
Would these not fling their last, ever-saved,
ever-hidden, unknown to us, eternally
valid coins of happiness in front of the finally
truly smiling pair on the silent

The Sixth Elegy

Fig-tree, for such a long time now, there has been meaning for me,
in the way you almost wholly omit to flower
and urge your pure secret, unheralded,
into the early, resolute fruit.
Like the jet of a fountain, your arched bough
drives the sap downward, then up: and it leaps from its sleep
barely waking, into the bliss of its sweetest achievement.
See: like the god into the swan
..........We, though, linger,
ah, our pride is in flowering, and, already betrayed,
we reach the late core of our final fruit.
In a few the urge to action rises so powerfully,
that they are already waiting and glowing with their heart's fullness
when the temptation to flower, like the mild night air,
touches their tender mouths, touches their eyelids:
heroes perhaps, and those chosen to vanish prematurely,
in whom Death the gardener wove different veins.
These plunge ahead: they go before their own smile,
like the team of horses in the slightly
hollowed-out relief of Karnak's victorious pharaoh.
The hero is strangely close to those who died young. Lasting
doesn't contain him. Being is his ascent: he moves on,
time and again, to enter the changed constellation
his risk entails. Few could find him there. But
Destiny, that darkly hides us, suddenly inspired,
sings him into the tempest of his onrushing world.
I hear no one like him. All at once I am pierced
by his darkened sound carried on streaming air.
Then, how gladly I would hide from the yearning: O if I,
if I were a boy, and might come to it still, and sit,
propped on the future's arms, and reading about Samson,
how his mother first bore nothing, and then all.
Was he not a hero already, O mother, in you, did not
his imperious choice begin inside you?
Thousands seethed in the womb and willed to be him,
but see: he grasped and let go, chose and achieved.
And if he shattered pillars, it was when he burst
out of the world of your flesh into the narrower world,
where he went on choosing, achieving. O mothers of heroes,
O sources of ravening rivers! Ravines into which
weeping girls have plunged
from the high heart's edge, future offerings to the son.
Because, whenever the hero stormed through the stations of love,
each heartbeat, meant for him, lifting him onward,
he turned away, stood at the end of the smiles, someone other.

The Seventh Elegy

Wooing, no longer: wooing will not be the form of your
cry, voice that's outgrown it: true, you would cry pure as a bird,
when the season lifts him, the ascending one, almost forgetting
that he is a suffering creature, and not just a solitary heart
that it flings into brightness, to intimate heavens. Like him,
you also, would be wooing no less - so that, still invisible,
some girl would sense you, the silent one, in whom a reply
slowly wakes and grows warm, as she listens -
the glowing feeling mated to your daring feeling.
Oh and the Spring-time would comprehend - there is no place
that would not echo its voice of proclamation.
First the tiny questioning piping, that a purely affirmative day
surrounds more deeply with heightened stillness.
Then up the stairway, the stairway of calling, up to
the dreamed-of temple of future - : then the trill, fountain
that in its rising jet already anticipates falling,
in promise's play.......And the summer to come.
Not only the devotion of these unfolded forces,
not only the paths, not only the evening fields,
not only, after a late storm, the breathing freshness,
not only approaching sleep and a premonition, evenings...
also the nights! Also the high summer nights,
also the stars, the stars of this Earth!
O to be dead at last and know them eternally,
all the stars: for how, how, how to forget them!
See, I was calling my lover. But not only she
would come......Girls would come from delicate graves
and gather.....for, how could I limit
the call, once called? The buried always
still seek the Earth. - You, children, a single
thing grasped here is many times valid.
Don't think that Fate is more than a childhood across:
how often you overtook the beloved, panting,
panting after the blissful chase after nothing, into what's free.
Being here is the wonder. You knew it, girls, even you,
you who seemed dispensable, sunken - you, in the worst
streets of the cities, festering, or open
for refuse. Since an hour was given - perhaps not
so much as an hour, one that was scarcely
measurable by time's measure, between two moments, where you
had a being. Everything. Veins filled with being.
But we forget so easily what our laughing neighbour
neither acknowledges nor envies. We want to visibly
show it, while even the most visible of joys
can only display itself to us when we have changed it, from within.
Nowhere, beloved, will world be, but within. Our
life passes in change. And ever-shrinking
the outer diminishes. Where there was once a permanent house,
some conceptual structure springs up, athwart us, as fully
at home among concepts, as if it still stood in the brain.
Vast reservoirs of power are created by the spirit of the age,
formless, like the tense yearning gained from all things.
Temples are no longer known. Those extravagances
of the heart we keep, more secretly. Yes, where even one survives,
a single thing once prayed to, served, knelt before -
it stands, as it is, already there in the invisible.
Many no longer see it, but lose the chance to build it
inside themselves now, with columns, and statues, grander!
Each vague turn of the world has such disinherited ones,
to whom the former does not, and the next does not yet, belong.
Since even the next is far from mankind. Though
this should not confuse us, but strengthen in us the keeping
of still recognisable forms. This once stood among men,
stood in the midst of fate, the destroyer, stood
in the midst of not-knowing-towards-what, as if it existed, and drew
stars towards itself out of the enshrined heavens. Angel,
I'll show it to you, also, there! It will stand
in your gaze, finally upright, saved at last.
Columns, pylons, the Sphinx, the stirring thrust
of the cathedral, grey, out of a fading or alien city.
Was it not miracle? O, be astonished, Angel, since we are this,
O tell them, O great one, that we could achieve this: my breath
is too slight for this praising. So, after all, we have not
failed to make use of these spaces, these generous ones,
our spaces. (How frighteningly vast they must be,
when they are not overfull of our feelings, after thousands of years.)
But a tower was great, was it not? O Angel, it was though -
even compared to you? Chartres was great - and Music
towered still higher and went beyond us. Why even
a girl in love, oh, alone in the night, at her window,
did she not reach to your knees? -
Don't think that I'm wooing.
Angel, were I doing so, you would not come! Since my call
is always full of outpouring: against such a powerful
current you cannot advance. Like an outstretched
arm, my call. And its hand, opened above
for grasping, remains open, before you,
as if for defence and for warning,
wide open, Incomprehensible One.

The Eighth Elegy

The creature gazes into openness with all
its eyes. But our eyes are
as if they were reversed, and surround it,
everywhere, like barriers against its free passage.
We know what is outside us from the animal's
face alone: since we already turn
the young child round and make it look
backwards at what is settled, not that openness
that is so deep in the animal's vision. Free from death.
We alone see that: the free creature
has its progress always behind it,
and God before it, and when it moves, it moves
in eternity, as streams do.
We never have pure space in front of us,
not for a single day, such as flowers open
endlessly into. Always there is world,
and never the Nowhere without the Not: the pure,
unwatched-over, that one breathes and
endlessly knows, without craving. As a child
loses itself sometimes, one with the stillness, and
is jolted back. Or someone dies and is it.
Since near to death one no longer sees death,
and stares ahead, perhaps with the large gaze of the creature.
Lovers are close to it, in wonder, if
the other were not always there closing off the view.....
As if through an oversight it opens out
behind the other......But there is no
way past it, and it turns to world again.
Always turned towards creation, we see
only a mirroring of freedom
dimmed by us. Or that an animal
mutely, calmly is looking through and through us.
This is what fate means: to be opposite,
and to be that and nothing else, opposite, forever.
If there was consciousness like ours
in the sure creature, that moves towards us
on a different track - it would drag us
round in its wake. But its own being
is boundless, unfathomable, and without a view
of its condition, pure as its outward gaze.
And where we see future it sees everything,
and itself in everything, and is healed for ever.
And yet in the warm waking creature
is the care and burden of a great sadness.
Since it too always has within it what often
overwhelms us - a memory,
as if what one is pursuing now was once
nearer, truer, and joined to us
with infinite tenderness. Here all is distance,
there it was breath. Compared to that first home
the second one seems ambiguous and uncertain.
O bliss of little creatures
that stay in the womb that carried them forever:
O joy of the midge that can still leap within,
even when it is wed: since womb is all.
And see the half-assurance of the bird,
almost aware of both from its inception,
as if it were the soul of an Etruscan,
born of a dead man in a space
with his reclining figure as the lid.
And how dismayed anything is that has to fly,
and leave the womb. As if it were
terrified of itself, zig-zagging through the air, as a crack
runs through a cup. As the track
of a bat rends the porcelain of evening.
And we: onlookers, always, everywhere,
always looking into, never out of, everything.
It fills us. We arrange it. It collapses.
We arrange it again, and collapse ourselves.
Who has turned us round like this, so that,
whatever we do, we always have the aspect
of one who leaves? Just as they
will turn, stop, linger, for one last time,
on the last hill, that shows them all their valley - ,
so we live, and are always taking leave.

The Ninth Elegy

Why, if it could begin as laurel, and be spent so,
this space of Being, a little darker than all
the surrounding green, with little waves at the edge
of every leaf (like a breeze's smile) - : why then
have to be human - and shunning destiny
long for destiny?....
Oh, not because happiness exists,
that over-hasty profit from imminent loss,
not out of curiosity, or to practice the heart,
which could exist in the laurel......
But because being here is much, and because all
that's here seems to need us, the ephemeral, that
strangely concerns us. We: the most ephemeral. Once,
for each thing, only once. Once, and no more. And we too,
once. Never again. But this
once, to have been, though only once,
to have been an earthly thing - seems irrevocable.
And so we keep pushing on, and trying to achieve it,
trying to contain it in our simple hands,
in the overflowing gaze and the speechless heart.
Trying to become it. Whom to give it to? We would
hold on to it for ever....Ah, what, alas, do we
take into that other dimension? Not the gazing which we
slowly learned here, and nothing that happened. Nothing.
Suffering then. Above all, then, the difficulty,
the long experience of love, then - what is
wholly unsayable. But later,
among the stars, what use is it: it is better unsayable.
Since the traveller does not bring a handful of earth
from mountain-slope to valley, unsayable to others, but only
a word that was won, pure, a yellow and blue
gentian. Are we here, perhaps, for saying: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit-tree, window -
at most: column, tower......but for saying, realise,
oh, for a saying such as the things themselves would never
have profoundly said. Is not the secret intent
of this discreet Earth to draw lovers on,
so that each and every thing is delight within their feeling?
Threshold: what is it for two
lovers to be wearing their own threshold of the ancient door
a little, they too, after the many before them,
and before those to come......., simple.
Here is the age of the sayable: here is its home.
Speak, and be witness. More than ever
the things of experience are falling away, since
what ousts and replaces them is an act with no image.
An act, under a crust that will split, as soon as
the business within outgrows it, and limit itself differently.
Between the hammers, our heart
lives on, as the tongue
between the teeth, that
in spite of them, keeps praising.
Praise the world to the Angel, not the unsayable: you
can't impress him with glories of feeling: in the universe,
where he feels more deeply, you are a novice. So show
him a simple thing, fashioned in age after age,
that lives close to hand and in sight.
Tell him things. He'll be more amazed: as you were,
beside the rope-maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.
Show him how happy things can be, how guiltless and ours,
how even the cry of grief decides on pure form,
serves as a thing, or dies into a thing: transient,
they look to us for deliverance, we, the most transient of all.
Will us to change them completely, in our invisible hearts,
into - oh, endlessly, into us! Whoever, in the end, we are.
Earth, is it not this that you want: to rise
invisibly in us? - Is that not your dream,
to be invisible, one day? - Earth! Invisible!
What is your urgent command if not transformation?
Earth, beloved, I will. O, believe me, you need
no more Spring-times to win me: only one,
ah, one, is already more than my blood can stand.
Namelessly, I have been truly yours, from the first.
You were always right, and your most sacred inspiration
is that familiar Death.
See I live. On what? Neither childhood nor future
grows less......Excess of being
wells up in my heart.

The Tenth Elegy

Some day, in the emergence from this fierce insight,
let me sing jubilation and praise to assenting Angels.
Let not a single one of the cleanly-struck hammers of my heart
deny me, through a slack, or a doubtful, or
a broken string. Let my streaming face
make me more radiant: let my secret weeping
bear flower. O, how dear you will be to me, then, Nights
of anguish. Inconsolable sisters, why did I not
kneel more to greet you, lose myself more
in your loosened hair? We, squanderers of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into duration's sadness,
to see if they have an end. Though they are nothing but
our winter-suffering foliage, our dark evergreen,
one of the seasons of our inner year - not only
season - : but place, settlement, camp, soil, dwelling.
Strange, though, alas, the streets of Grief-City,
where, in the artificiality of a drowned-out false
stillness, the statue cast from the mould of emptiness bravely
swaggers: the gilded noise, the flawed memorial.
O, how an Angel would utterly trample their market of solace,
bounded by the Church, bought ready for use:
untouched, disenchanted and shut like the post-office on Sunday.
Beyond though, the outskirts are always alive with the fair.
Swings of freedom! Divers and jugglers of zeal!
And the figures at the shooting range of easy luck,
targets that shake tinnily whenever some better marksman
hits one. From applause at his luck
he staggers on further: as booths for every taste
are wooing him, drumming, and bawling. Here's something
special, only for adults, to view: how money is got, anatomy,
not just to amuse: the private parts of money,
all of it, the whole thing, the act, - to instruct and make
potent.......O, but just beyond
behind the last hoarding, plastered with adverts for `Deathless',
that bitter beer that tastes sweet to its drinkers,
as long as they chew fresh distractions along with it......
just at the back of the hoardings, just behind them, it's real.
Children are playing, lovers are holding each other - to the side,
sombrely, in the sparse grass, and dogs are following their nature.
The youth is drawn on, further: perhaps it's a young
Lament he loves......He comes to the field, beyond her. She says:
`It's far. We live out there....'
`Where?' And the youth follows.
He is moved by her manner. Her shoulders, her neck - perhaps
she's from a notable family. But he leaves her, turns round,
looks back, waves.......What's the point? She's a Lament.
Only those who died young, in their first state
of timeless equanimity, that of being weaned,
follow her lovingly. She waits
for girls and befriends them. She shows them gently
what she is wearing. Pearls of grief and the fine
veils of suffering. - With youths she walks on
in silence.
But there, where they live, in the valley, one of the older Laments,
takes to the youth, when he questions: - `We were,'
she says, `a large family once, we Laments. Our ancestors
worked the mines on that mountain-range: among men
you'll sometimes find a lump of polished primal grief,
or the lava of frozen rage from some old volcano.
Yes, that came from there. We used to be rich.' -
And she leads him gently through the wide landscape of Lament,
shows him the columns of temples, the ruins
of castles, from which the lords of Lament
ruled the land, wisely. Shows him the tall
Tear-trees, and the fields of flowering Sadness,
(The living know it as only a tender shrub.)
shows him the herds of Grief, grazing - and sometimes
a startled bird, flying low through their upward glance,
will inscribe on the far distance the written form of its lonely cry -
At evening she leads him to the graves of the elders
of the race of Laments, the sibyls and prophets.
But as night falls, so they move more softly, and soon,
like a moon, the all-guarding
sepulchre rises. Brother to that of the Nile,
the tall Sphinx, the secret chamber's
And they are astonished by the regal head, that forever,
silently, positioned the human face
in the scale of the stars.
His sight cannot grasp it, still dizzied
by early death. But her gaze
frightens an owl from behind the rim of the crown,
and the bird brushes, with slow skimming flight, along the cheek,
the one with the richer curve,
and inscribes the indescribable
outline, on the new
hearing born out of death, as though
on the doubly-unfolded page of a book.
And higher: the stars. New stars, of Grief-Land.
Slowly the Lament names them: `There,
see: the Rider, the Staff, and that larger constellation
they name Fruit-Garland. Then, further, towards the Pole:
the Cradle, the Way, the Burning Book, the Doll, the Window.
But in the southern sky, pure as on
the palm of a sacred hand, the clearly shining M,
that stands for the Mothers......'
But the dead must go on, and in silence the elder Lament
leads him as far as the ravine,
where the fountain of joy
glistens in moonlight. With awe
she names it saying: `Among men
this is a load-bearing river.'
They stand at the foot of the mountains.
And there she embraces him, weeping.
He climbs alone, on the mountains of primal grief.
And not once do his footsteps sound from his silent fate.
But if the endlessly dead woke a symbol in us,
see, they would point perhaps to the catkins,
hanging from bare hazels, or
they would intend the rain, falling on dark soil in Spring-time. -
And we, who think of ascending
joy, would feel the emotion,
that almost dismays us,
when a joyful thing falls.

The Sonnets To Orpheus: I

(Translated by Mark Burrows)

Up rose a tree. O pure uprising!
O Orpheus singing! O towering tree in our ears!
And all kept silent. But even in this solitude,
a new beginning,sign,and change came forth.

Creatures thronged out of the stillness,out of
the spacious forest, uncluttered of lair and nest;
and they were so still in themselves,
not from cunning and not from fear
but from listening. Bellows, cries, commotion
seemed distant from their hearts. And where
not even a hut existed to receive them-

a shelter made of darkest desiring
with an entrance whose jambs trembled-
you built for them a temple for their hearing.


A god could do it. But tell me this: how can anyone
follow him by passing through the narrow lyre?
Our minds are divided;at the crossing of two
heart-paths,one finds no temple to Apollo.

Song, as you teach it, is not about desire,
and does not court what might ultimately be attained.
Song is being. Something simple for the god.
But when finally are we to be? And when will he

turn the earth and the stars toward us?
It isn't this, youngster, which makes you love,even when
the voice forces open its mouth for you. Learn

to forget that you sang out. This passes away.
But to sing in truth is a different breath.
A breath around nothing. A blowing in god. A wind.


We are the achievers.
But this march of time,
consider it as nothing
among what endures.

All that hurries
will soon be done;
and what lingers
initiates us.

O, youth, don't waste
your courage on speed,
or squander it in flight.

Everything is at rest:
darkness and bright,
blossom and book.


O,only then when flight
no longer rises for its own sake
into the solitude of skies,
sufficient unto itself

as happens with brilliant designs-
like a tool that was able to
play the part of one favored by winds,
confident, agile, and fit-

then, when a pure tendency
of proliferating machines
eclipses boyhood pride,

will the one driven by the will to win,
the one who conquered the distances,
be what he alone gained in flying.

The Sonnets To Orpheus: I, 21

(Translated by David Hills )

Spring came again today. The thawing earth
Is like a child who knows her rhymes by heart.
So many verses. After all the toil
Of drawn-out study she collects her prize.

Her teacher was a strict one. Yet we liked
The glistening whiteness of the old man's beard.
Now we can ask at random for the name
Of this green or that blue. She knows them all.

Earth, school is out now. Happy earth, come play
With us, the children. Let's play tag. You're it.
Catch as catch can, and may the happiest win.

All that her teacher taught, so many verses,
All that's imprinted in the roots and long
Difficult stems: at last she sings it back.

II, 6

Enthroning rose, for those in days gone by
A simple goblet with a single rim,
For us, however, the full infinite bloom,
The object no perception can exhaust.

In your massed wealth you seem to us to be
A gown, thrown over a gown, thrown over a body
That's nothing but light. And yet your single petal
Is shunning and refusal of all dress.

For centuries your fragrance has called out
Its sweetest names to us. Now suddenly
It weighs upon the air, like fame. And yet

We don't know what it's called. We take a guess.
And memory goes over to its side,
Abandoning the hours we could have named.

II, 18

O dancer, who transposes passing things
Into your gait, how you presented this!
Didn't your final spin, tree made of motion,
Take full possession of the swaying year?

And didn't its crown bloom with silence, so
Your previous swayings could swarm round about it?
Above you, wasn't it sun, wasn't it summer, warmth,
A measureless warmth that radiates from you?

Yet it bore too, it bore, your tree of passion.
Aren't these its placid fruits: the spacious pitcher
Streaked as it ripens, the still riper vase?

And in the pictures: what about the sketch
The dark stroke of your eyebrow jotted down
On the wall of its own turning? Didn't it stay?

II, 25

Already, listen up! and you will hear
The early plows at work. A human pace
Returns once more to the tense stillness of
The early spring's rank earth. What's coming next

Is anything but stale for you. What's come
To you so often comes again, like new.
Always awaited. Yet when it does come,
You never seize it. Instead it seizes you.

Even the leaves the oaks have kept all winter
This evening seem a future shade of brown.
Sometimes the breezes pass each other signals.

Black are the bushes. But the heaps of dung
Stand in the pastures a yet richer black.
Each passing hour is younger than the last.

The Sonnets To Orpheus: I.26

(Translated by Robert K. G. Temple)

But you, godlike one, you, resounding with song to the very last,
When seized by the swarm of the despised maenads,
Drowned out their shrieking with Order, yes
Beauteous one, - from the very midst of the ravagers arose the edification of your playing.

There were none then who could destroy either your head or your lyre,
Even as those furious ones raved and tore;
And all the sharp stones which they threw at your heart
Turned to softness upon your breast and, behold, were blessed with Hearing.

Finally they destroyed you, hunted down out of vengeance,
While your timbre abides in lions and cliffs
And in trees and birds. In these you sing still.

Oh you lost god! You unending trail!
Only because hatred at last tore asunder and dispersed you
Are we now the hearers and a mouth to Nature.

The Sonnets To Orpheus: IV

O you tender ones, walk now and then
into the breath that blows coldly past,
Upon your cheeks let it tremble and part;
behind you it will tremble together again.

O you blessed ones, you who are whole,
you who seem the beginning of hearts,
bows for the arrows and arrows' targets-
tear-bright, your lips more eternally smile.

Don't be afraid to suffer; return
that heaviness to the earth's own weight;
heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

Even the small trees you planted as children
have long since become too heavy; you could not
carry them now. But the winds.But the spaces..

Archaic Torso of Apollo (1908)

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

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