The Duino Elegies
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The First Elegy
Who, should I cry, would hear me among the ranks of angels?
And even should one suddenly press me heart to heart
I’d dissolve into nothing against such starker being—
beauty is nothing, only the inkling of terror we’re barely able to bear
and it draws us only because it doesn’t bother to destroy us.
An angel is pure terror.
So I hold back and repress sorrow’s dark birdsong.
O whom could such need ever turn to?
Not angels, not humans—and animals already know
we’re outcasts in our own manufactured world.
Perhaps some things remain—a lone tree on a hillside
we see every day, yesterday’s street, or the faithfulness
of some habit so comfortable when it came to stay
it settled and never left.
Oh, and night! There is night, when winds of infinity gnaw at our faces.
Whom wouldn’t she remain for, that longed-for, disillusioning
queen of emptiness that hearts meet so painfully in loneliness?
But is it any better for lovers?
They just hide in one another from their own fate.
Don’t you know yet?
Fling that emptiness from your arms into these spaces we breathe—
maybe the birds will fill the expanded air with more passionate flying.
Yes, of course—each new spring needed you, and one star or another
waited patiently for your own personal attention.
Primordial tides rolled toward you, or as you passed an open window
a violin said, “Yes!” to your ears—
but all this was your mission, wasn’t it? Could you accomplish it?
Weren’t you always anticipating the arrival of some beloved?
(Where would you have put her, anyway, with all your strange inner
thoughts coming and going, sometimes even staying for the night?)
But when longing truly strikes, sing of women in love;
their passion is immortal. Sing of abandoned, desolate women—
don’t you envy them, really?—
whose love is so much purer than that of those they love.
Praise such as these again and again with impossible praise—don’t forget
the hero survives—his every death just a pretext for his only birth.
Only redundant Nature inhales lovers as if she couldn’t make them again.
Do you see how in the story of Gaspara Stampa a young girl deserted
by her lover feels—in the expanded being of such lovers—
“Oh, that I could be such as she!”
Can this oldest of all aching never end in bearing us fruit?
Isn’t it time we lovingly abandoned love and, quivering,
endured, as an arrow endures the bowstring’s tension,
gathering in the release’s snap ever so much more than itself?
Voices! Voices! O my heart hear as only saints have heard,
until the glacial, unrelenting Word carried them up, away,
though they remained—impossibly—kneeling, not noticing
at all, so true was their hearing.
Not that God’s voice could be endured—not at all.
But listen to the wind’s voice, the endless word silently forming itself
that those who died young murmur to you now.
Didn’t their fate approach you to say hello every time you stepped
into a church in Naples or Rome?
Or a quoted eulogy on some monument commissioned you—
as last year on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
They beg me gently to remove their death’s semblance of injustice
that at times somewhat hinders their souls from moving on.
Naturally it’s odd to stay no longer on the earth,
to abandon traditions one’s hardly had time to learn,
to see roses or other promising things no longer
in the context of a human future;
no longer to be what one once was, in infinitely anxious hands;
even to leave one’s own name behind, forgetting it
as a child abandons a broken toy.
Odd—no longer to desire, or even want to desire—
odd to note meanings that coalesced, once, drifting off in every direction.
Being dead is hard work—full of retracing one’s steps
before gradually grasping traces of eternity.
Still, the living mistakenly trust the differences they imagine.
They say angels can’t tell if they go among the living or the dead.
Eternity cycles all the ages through both realms forever,
swamping their voices in its deafening howl.
At last those torn early from us no longer need us,
weaned from Earth’s sorrowful joys as sweetly as children
outgrow a mother’s soft breast.
But we who continue in our need of such great mysteries,
for whom grief is the fountainhead of spirit’s growth—
how could we exist without them?
Does the legend tell us without truth how—crying for Linus—
Song first penetrated a sterile senselessness, startling the space
left void forever by a youth lovely as a god, in which first vibrated
that harmony that now draws us, sings us, comforts, and helps?
The Second Elegy
Every single angel is terrible.
But—O fatal birds of the soul!—even knowing this I call you out.
Where are the days of Tobias gone to—
when one of you, his splendor hidden, stood at the door
as though disguised for a journey, no longer horrific—
a young man just like the one curiously peeking
out at him through the window?
But if that archangel, now—deadly—from beyond the stars
But if that archangel, now—deadly—from beyond the stars
made even one small move down toward any of us:
our own heart, beating up toward him, higher and higher,
would beat us to death.
Who are you?
Who are you?
Early successes; creation's darlings;
mountain ranges—peaks growing red at dawn’s beginning;
the flowering godhead’s pollen; shards of pure light;
hallways; stairways; thrones; space shaped from essence;
shields of ecstasy; rapture churned from stormy urges—
or, suddenly, finally, singly: mirrors that scoop up
what beauty streams from their own faces
gathering it back wholly into themselves.
But we, overwhelmed by spiritedness, evaporate; we exhale ourselves;
moment by moment our emotion’s being wears off like perfume.
Suppose someone says, “Yes, you’re in my blood—this room, springtime itself
is full of you!” what does it matter? He can’t contain us,
we disappear in and through him.
And—O the beautiful!—who can contain one of them?
Appearance constantly wells-up in that face—and is gone.
Appearance constantly wells-up in that face—and is gone.
Early, our essence—what’s ours—rises from us, like dew from the grass,
like steam from a hot dish. O smile, where to? O up-darting eye,
new, warm, receding wave of the heart?—
It pains me to think so, but that’s all we are.
So, does the outer space we dissolve into taste of us?
Do angels in fact only reabsorb what pours forth from themselves
or, upon occasion, perhaps as if by accident, draw in just a touch
of our being evaporated from here? Are we in their faces,
their aura, their habits, their wake—like that vague expression
sometimes noted on pregnant women? It’s not noticed in the vortex
of their return to themselves. (How could they notice it.)
Lovers—if they knew how—could make notable speeches
in the night air. Yet we all seem hidden. Look—the trees, the houses—
though we reside among them, we only pass through,
as interchangeable as the wind, though everything conspires to hold us
back, too, half as shame, perhaps—half as unutterable hope.
I ask you lovers about us—you who satisfy each other’s needs—
you access one another’s being, do you? Have you proof?
Look, it happens that my hands today experience one another
or that my battered face shelters itself inside them.
That gives me a little sensation.
But who would dare claim to exist in that?
Yet you—each in the other’s rapture—grow
until being overwhelms you, begs in you, “No more!”
as, in your hands, it swells into vintage after vintage,
sometimes even surpassing itself, elevated into annihilation,
completely out of hand: I ask you about us.
I know the embrace’s being holds you so blissfully
because the body does not shrink from it, though
tenderly concealed, because—hidden so—the feeling
seems to last forever—the embrace almost promises
eternity. And yet, once the first terrifying glances
have turned into the longing at the window,
once you’ve made that first turn through the garden together,
lovers—can you claim kin to that shared being, even then?
Does it ever truly possess you? Since you’re each only one among others,
as you lift your lips, mount—drink for drink—isn’t it strange
how actuality only leaks from each one who drinks?
Didn’t the caution of human gestures on Attic grave statues
startle you? Weren’t love and leave-taking
draped so gently on their being’s shoulders they seemed
cut from fabrics other than our own? Did you notice the hands,
how essential yet without volume they were, even though
force seemed to stand waiting in the torsos?
Such self-possession knows—as far as it goes—it is our being:
to be touched by being, essentially mortising us to the gods.
But that is the gods’ affair.
O that we could come directly, between river and rock,
to a posted, narrow strip of fruitful human soil! But our own
heart still—and always—gets out ahead of us, just as theirs did.
So we can neither gaze up with it at assuaging images,
nor at God’s corpse, wherein its moderation is sublime.
The Third Elegy
It’s one thing to sing the beloved; sadly, quite another
that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood. What self already
knows of the lords of lust is recognized from afar, from youth,
from frequent loneliness. Before any girl could relieve him, more
often than not—oh!—dripping with the unknown, the highest known
God annihilated, its depth summoned the night to endless uproar.
O Neptune in the blood! O his appalling trident!
O the dark blast of his tortuous mussel shell chest!
Listen to the night, vast and empty, her stars—
does it come from within you, lovers, his lust for
the beloved’s face? Do you think his secret insight into
the purity of her features comes from the pure constellations?
No, you don’t possess him, sadly; you, his mother, didn’t
bend such expectation into the arch of his brows;
nor you, girl—it was never his awareness of you
that drew the bow of his lip into a more accurate expression.
Do you really think it could have been your cautious ways;
are you shaken, you who convert yourselves in belief to a god
strolling the garden in the cool of the day?
True, you frightened his heart, but more ancient terrors
already plunged within him at the sperm’s penetration.
You named him, almost called him into being—unconscious doings.
and, naturally, he wants to—and does so with relief—
take hold and begin himself in your sheltering heart.
But is this where he’s rooted?
Mother, you made him small; it was you who started him.
He was new to you; you were firmament to his first eyes,
a friendly world that—behind it—eclipsed the alien.
Where—oh!—where down the years is that time you simply
gave him being by plunging the image of your slender form
like a cork into the bottleneck of the surging abyss?
You hid so much of his room’s nightly fear and suspicion,
made of it a refuge, purely out of your heart’s harmlessness,
by folding additional human being into its nights.
Not in the darkness you eclipsed, no—in your own nearer being
you poised the nightlight, and it offered him friendship.
you poised the nightlight, and it offered him friendship.
Nowhere a creak that your smile didn’t explain,
as if you had long known how floorboards behave themselves.
And he listened more easily. This much your tender nightly
as if you had long known how floorboards behave themselves.
And he listened more easily. This much your tender nightly
coming up to him could accomplish: sending his fate,
tall and cloaked, to hide behind the wardrobe; and his restless
future, snugly into the folds of the curtain, to wait for him.
And he, himself—as he lay there in your manufactured ease—
your light-shaping sweetness, beneath his drowsy eyelids,
dissolving into the taste of his sleep—
he seemed protected. . . . But inside: who resisted,
held back—inside him—the aboriginal flood?
Sadly there was no caution in the sleeper—sleeping
but dreaming—feverish as ever.
He, newness itself, shivering as he became entangled,
on the spot, among still-thrashing inner tendrils,
patterns already overwhelmed by strangling growth, subhuman
hunting forms—how he yielded. . . loved. . . .
Loved his own insides, his interior wilds, this primeval
forest within him, where—wrestling with its muteness—
his pale green heart stood. Loved. Then left, shot out
his own roots into the utter, primordial leap that
his little birth had already survived. Continuing with love,
he journeyed up and down in more ancient blood, through the
canyons where horror itself lay, gorging on his fathers. And every
single terror recognized him, winked in complicity.
Yes, the ultimate horror smiled . . . . Rarely
did you smile at him so tenderly, Mother. How should
he fail to love what smiled at him? Before you,
he loved it first, for even as you carried him,
it was already in the water that soothes the embryo.
You see, we do not love a single time, like annual
flowers; when we love, sap that is immemorial
rises in our arms. O girl!
Know this: that in us not only a single futurity loves, but also
countless other futures are brewing—not a single child
but all fathers—like mountain debris
at base lodged in us, along with the dry riverbed
one-time mothers, the whole
soundless landscape, whether under murky or
clear doom: this anticipated you—came before—you, girl.
And you, yourself—what do you know? You stronghold
eternity aloft in your loved one—like forgotten
treasures in an attic. What feelings
from departed beings are churned up in you; what
women hated you! What kind of wicked men
did you excite in the young man’s veins? Dead
children longed for you . . . . O!—softly, softly—
lovingly do a good day’s work for him
out in the garden patch; let him have the
heavy nights . . . .
Hold him back . . . .
The Fourth Elegy
O trees of life! Oh, when are you ever wintry?
We’re not one, not linked in awareness
like migratory birds. Spent and late, we’re
leaves that launch ourselves at sudden wind
and fall into an indifferent pond.
Blooming while withering is all we know.
Yet somewhere there are lions that sense no
weakness at all—while their beauty lasts.
But we, though we feel part of one whole, already
only do so at the expense of another. Conflict
is always at our side. Even lovers—don’t they step
right up to the cliff edge, each within the other,
pointing toward wideopen spaces, hunting, and home?
A moment’s quick sketch over a painstakingly
wrought background enables us to picture them,
for they are clearly within us, but we
don’t know the contour of our feelings—
only what conforms to them on the outside.
Who has not sat, anxious, before the curtain of his heart,
the rising of which always reveals the scenery of farewell?
Easy to understand: the imaged garden, familiar,
and softly swayed; then comes the dancer—
not him! Enough! And even if he steps lightly,
he’s only a dressed-up bourgeoise who
enters his apartment through the kitchen.
To such half-stuffed masks I much prefer
a doll or a puppet—which is full. I can
stand the skinned body, the wires, and the
face of pure appearance. Here—I’m sitting up front.
When the houselights go down, and I also, so to speak,
am nothing more—though from the stage
emptiness wafts this way on a gray draft,
though none among my silent ancestors
any longer accompany me, no woman, not
even that lad with the squinting brown eyes:
yet I remain—there’s always a spectator.
I have it right—no? You, whose life tasted
so bitter on my account, Father—
the first dim infusion of obligation
as I grew into adolescence—and who kept on,
with the aftertaste of such a busy future,
sampling my misted-over, upturned glance.
You, my father, whom anxiety and serenity have so
often killed, since your death, in my inner hopes,
empires of serenity poured out for my bit of fate—
don’t I have it right? And you, don’t I have it right,
you who loved me for my fledgling love
for you that always lost its way,
since the roominess I loved in your face
passed so soon away into outerspace, where
you no longer waited . . . : should I be expected to wait
before the puppet stage so completely that—no,
look again!—there must be a player at the end
added to my vision as a counterweight—
an angel who pulls the strings.
Angel and puppet: at last this is drama.
Then what we continually fragment by
being there comes together. Then from
the fullness of our time arises the backdrop
that silhouettes wholeness. Over and against
us the angel plays. You see, the dead—
they must recognize what a great pretense
all this is, what we get up to, here. Nothing
is itself. O childhood’s hours!
When behind our figures were more than
just bygones, and before us not yet the future.
Certainly we grew and were impatient, at times,
to grow faster, half for the sake
of nothing more than growth itself.
And yet, in our lone sojourn, we had
permanence, cheerfully suspended
in the abyss between world and toy,
at that point established since the
beginning as a pure event horizon.
Who shows a child as it stands thus? Who charts
his constellation and measures the distance
in his hand? Who makes his death
from gray hardening bread—or can—
there inside the round mouth, as the pistil
of a sweet apple? Murderers are . . .
not so difficult to imagine. But: death,
the whole of death—to embrace it softly
even before they live and not be angry—
this is unutterable.
The Fifth Elegy
But who are they, tell me, these travelers—little
more fugitive from early needs than ourselves—
who wrestle, whom love
will never satisfy? Instead it wrings them,
bends them, twists them and swings them,
throws them and catches them back, well-oiled;
smooth as air they come down,
all used up by her eternal
leaping, on thinning carpet, this forlorn
carpet of the universe,
draped as over a memorial, as if the work of
Earth’s suburban heaven had been completed there.
And barely there:
upright and—as depicted—a capital letter
just standing there, loitering, that already curls
the strongest men back into the obligatory
joke that grips them, such as August the Strong at table
a pewter plate.
Oh, and this
central feature, observation’s rose:
blooms both in flower and stripped. In this
mixture, mix again the dust of the suitable
open blossoms with the artificial fruit
their displeasure polinated, their
unconscious—shining with the thinnest
veneer of slightly calculating indifference.
To wit: the wilted, wrinkled, chiseled one,
the oldest, who only drums any more,
swallowed-up in his enormous skin, as if it once
had sported two men, one
already laid to rest in the churchyard, whom he’s outlived,
deaf and often a little tangled,
if not weirdly muddled, in his widowed hide.
But the youth, the man, as it were the son of a nape
and a nun: the full and upright wedded
to muscle and innocence.
an even smaller sorrow that once,
as a plaything, got into one of his
long convalescences. . . .
You—who at his falling to Earth’s thud
only know him as immature fruit—
daily you fall a hundredfold from the same tree,
manufactured motions (faster than water, in those few
moments spring, summer, and autumn have)—
that apostatize and take by force the grave:
sometimes for a change of pace you want a darling
countenance to arise opposite that of your rarified,
fond mother, but the surface it conforms to
gets lost within your body—the shy,
hardly attempted face. . . then again
the man claps his hands for the jump, and—before a darling—
the pain of his racing heart, always verging on the eternal,
becomes a burning in the soles of his feet,
its evidence before you in a couple of
swift, living tears thrust from the hunted eyes.
Yet, as well, blindly,
the smile. . . .
O angel! Grab it, pluck that tiny-blossomed herb.
Make it a vase, stronghold it in a lovely urn!
Set it among those joys we don’t yet openly have,
a reticent fame broadcast with florid writing:
»Subrisio Saltat.« [Acrobat’s Smile.]
You, then, darling—
you, lovliest among delights,
overlooked, muted. Do your frills,
perhaps, make you happy—
or the feel of your young, plump breasts
under the green metallic silk—endlessly pampered
and lacking for nothing? You,
constantly fluctuating on all different scales of balance,
the publicly laid-out market fruit of equanimity—
from the shoulders, down.
Where, O where! is that place—I carry it in my heart—
where they couldn’t be so far from one another
fallen, like the coupling of
where the weights are still heavy;
where, beneath each vain whirling
plate, the sticks
reel yet . . . .
But, suddenly, in this laborious nowhere—suddenly
the unutterable location of the pure too little
into an empty too much,
where Infinity runs up
its exorbitant tab.
Places—O place in Paris!—infinite showplace
where Madame Death the milliner invents
the restless paths of the earth—endless ribbons;
loops and twists; and, fresh from their
grinding, ruffles; flowers; artificial fruits—all
false colored—for the cheap
winter hats of fate.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Angel: it would be a place we do not know, and there—
upon untold layers of carpet, of shows the lovers here
can never get to—their bold
high figures of heart would swing,
their towers of pleasure rise, their
long ago finally be, where there was no ground, only ladders
leaning at each other, trembling—then, at the very least,
the audience, the countless rings of soundless dead, could
throw their last saved—but never known, always on loan,
but eternally valid—coins of happiness at the feet of the last
truly smiling couple wearing boots on the
The Sixth Elegy
Fig tree, you’ve long held significance for me—
the way you almost entirely skip blooming
and humbly push your pure mystery into the
fruit’s determined fullness of time,
as your fountain pipes drive sap through
cuneate branches—down and up again—and you jump out of bed,
hardly awake, to delight in your sweetest achievement.
See—like Zeus in the swan . . . .
But we linger.
Sadly, our pride is an unopened blossom; arriving late at its esence
we go betrayed into our final fruit.
In very few the urge to action rises so strongly
that they already stand glowing in their heart’s abundance
when seduced to bloom, as young mouths
touch eyelids in the mild night air:
heroes, and perhaps the early over-determined—
where Death the gardner has already knotted the vines.
These surge forward, ahead of their own
smile, like the teams of horses in the faint, only
scratched-out images of Karnak the conquering king.
Yes, the hero is curiously similar to those who die young. Endurance
doesn’t fret him. His morning is being, itself, all existence; lifelong
he embraces the constant danger attendant upon entering worlds
beneath distorted constellations—where, in fact, he finds little. But
for us, the gloomily silent, the left-behind, his enthusiastic fate suddenly
sings him into the storm of his hurtling world.
I hear none other like him. His darkened voice
goes right through me with the flowing air.
Oh, for those days when I preferred disguise to desire: O! Were I—
were I a lad who might still be there, sitting
with armloads full of the future, reading of Samson,
whose mother first nothing—and then everything bore.
Wasn’t he a hero even inside you—O Mother!—didn’t his
imperious discrimination begin there, already, in you?
Thousands were brewing in that womb, but he wanted to be.
You see, he grasped for it and willed it—chose to be chosen.
And when he rammed the pillars, breaking out of your body’s
world into this narrower one, he continued choosing
to be chosen. O heroic Mother! O source
of torrential streams! Your canyons of the heart’s
high rim! where already roams that plaintive,
overthrown girl—the future sacrifice to the son.
Because the hero has already stormed through all the stations of love,
his eminence having averted the challenge of each in a heartbeat,
and he arrives at the end of his trajectory already transformed.
The Seventh Elegy
No more of this hawking of wares, this solicitation, this lovemaking! Voice—
your calling’s outgrown all that, though you cry out pure as a bird
when the season elevates it—priest-like—almost forgetting
it’s just a sorrowful beast—and not the cosmos’ unitarian heart—
casting abroad that cry into the intimacy of heaven’s delight; though no less
skilfull than his, your lovetalk with your invisible,
well-seasoned mistress, that silent one, whose response only slowly
awakens and—during its performance—warms itself to an ember’s
glowing numbness in the boldness of your daring emotion.
Oh, the springtime grasps this—nor nook nor cranny
but what dons the attitude of anunciation. Those first little
audible queries—then, with increasing restraint,
everywhere, though straightforwardly, the pure, affirmative day.
Then up go the stairsteps—that beckoning, ascending stairway to the
dream-future’s temple—next the fanfare trill, then the fountain—
whose urgent upward thrust already traps the falling stream’s
promised ascention—then on to summer itself.
Not only the mornings all summer long—how they
turn themselves into day and shine even before beginning.
Not only the days designed to be tender with blossoms
while, above, strong and powerful among the trees.
Not only the reverence of these unfolded forces,
not only the pathways, not only the evening meadows,
not only the cleaner breathing after a late thunderstorm,
not only approaching sleep with its expectations, evenings . . .
but the nights! But the high summer
nights, but the stars, the stars of Earth,
O! to be dead someday and infinitely know
all the stars: for how, how, how to forget them!
Look here—I called for lovers. But not only they
came . . . there came from crumbling tombs
reawakened maidens . . . for—how could I limit the
call I had called? The lost are always
still searching for Earth—among her children, native
possessions once closely held, this appliles to many.
Don’t believe fate’s more than childhood’s density;
as the beloved often overtakes you, winded,
breathless from the holy race to nothing, to the other side.
Being here is glorious. You knew this, girls, even you,
whose overt poverty ran you amuck in the worst
backstreets of the cities, festering with open
sewers. We all had our hour, perhaps not even
an hour, but a quick, recognizable thrust of time’s
knife between two moments—because it held
being. All things. Fully ingrained with being.
But we forget so easily what our laughing neighbor
neither confirms nor envies; visibly we
want to elevate our doings, but our most visible happiness
is first recognized as a gift: when we transform from within.
Nowhere, Beloved, will the world resemble that inner being. Our
life misses out on—is left behind by—the transformation. Moreover,
outwardness fades, where once had been a durable house,
itself quite properly suggesting structural as opposed to imaginary
concepts, even though it now stands only in the brain:
vast strongholds of creative force for the unwhole Zeitgeist,
the thrilling drive he satisfies through it all.
Temples, he no longer recognizes. Such extravagances of the heart
keep one of our secrets. Yes, a temple that still stands upright,
something once prayed and worshipped in, knelt before—
remains, outside, as it already is within, invisible,
the gift of many inner transformations past that had
built it inwardly, with pillars and statues even greater!
Because even the very next is too far ahead for people—we must
not fool with this; our essential nature is making permanent
the still recognizable whole. This stood once among humans—
while in our midst stands fate, the destroyer—in our midst
in place of ignorance it stood like being itself, and created
stars to secure the heavens. Angel,
to you—inwardly—I still show it there! In your awareness
at last it stays saved, and so, at last, upright—pillars, pylons, or sphinx—
a cathedral—the aspiring thrust both eternalized and externally deleted.
Wasn’t it a miracle? O marvel! Angel! Because everything
tells us—O Greater One!—that we could do it; my breath
is insufficient for such praise. So we have still
not lost these spaces, granted thus, these inner
habitations of ours. (Why must they be so dreadfully vast
even millennia don’t overflow them with our feelings.)
But a tower was great, wasn’t it? O Angel! It was—
vast, even next to you? Chartres was great—and music
ranged, lifted even further, transcending us. But even
a girl in love—oh, alone in the night window . . .
doesn’t she reach your knee?
Don’t think that I’m making love.
Angel—and I do send out my call to you!—you don’t come. For my
call is always full of Get away! Against such a strong
current you can’t proceed. My call is like
an arm extended, its open palm before you
for the grasping—but as warding off and warning,
The Eighth Elegy
for Rudolf Kassner
With all eyes creatures see
the outside. But our eyes are
turned around, entirely misrepresenting themselves
as lures surrounding their free output.
From animal faces, alone, do we know
what’s out there, for we even turn a
young child around and force him
to see shapes backwards, not the outside that’s
so deep in the animal’s countenance—free from death.
We see the free beast, alone; but its own
destruction is always already behind it,
with God before, and as it moves, it goes
in Eternity, just as water flows from a spring.
We never have—not one single day—
the pure space before us in which flowers
infinitely rise. It’s always our world—
never nowhere at all: that unobserved
purity that can’t be sought after, but that
one breathes and knows without end. As a child,
if one loses himself in this silence, he’ll
be given a shaking—or die and become it.
For—close to death—one sees death no more
but stares beyond, perhaps, with vast, beastly gaze.
Musn’t lovers—each looking forward at
the other—be astonished at how close death is . . .
how opened to them by mistake behind
one another it is . . . but from neither comes
anyone forth, so once more it’s just our world.
Always facing into creation, we see
only a mirrored image of the outside
obscured from us—or that a mute beast
looks out and quietly sees right through us.
That is to say—this is our destiny: to be on the other side
and never otherwise; always on the other side.
Had beasts our art of self-conscious
certainty, their gaze would entangle us in the
other direction—as it jerked and gashed us
through the translation. But their being is
endless and unquantified—their condition
unseen, pure, like their perspective.
And where we see only future, they see all
in all things, healed and whole forever.
And yet in the watchful, warm beast are
consequence and care, a great sadness.
Because often what has overwhelmed us also
adheres to us—memories, as was already said—
that, after the beast’s closer penetration, become
integral to its infinitely tender faith. Here all is distance
but there it was breath. After that first home
the second seems sexless and wind blown.
O the bliss of tiny creatures!
that always remain in the lap of their experience;
O the mosquito’s joy! still hopping within,
even on his wedding day: for lap is all.
And see this side of the bird’s assurance,
both sides closely remembered from the beginning,
as if it were the soul of a dead Etruscan,
a void host, but shrouded in its dormant image.
And how stressful it must be for one coming
from a womb to fly—as, frightened itself,
it flashes through the air like a crack
through a cup—as a bat tears its trace
through the porcelain of evening.
And we: spectators—always, everywhere—
adroitly facing toward infinity, but never out there!
We overcrowd ourselves. We create—it decays.
We create again and fall apart, ourselves.
Who’s turned us around so that whatever
we do is from the perspective
of someone going away? As his last
hill shows his whole valley once more,
he turns, stops, lingers—
so we live, always taking farewell.
The Ninth Elegy
When being’s finish line finally arrives, why
put on laurel, a bit darker than all
other green, with little waves at each
leaf edge (wind smiles)—what need then
for humanity or, fate notwithstanding,
our yearning for fate?. . .
Oh, not because fortune is some
jumped-to conclusion of advantage in a near loss;
nor out of curiosity, nor to exercise the heart.
These would still be the laurel . . . .
But because being here means so much, and because
we appear to be just what this place needs, our evanescence,
strangely, when it comes to us, the most fleeting of all.
Once each, just once. Once and no more. And yet again
one time only. Never again. . . but this
one former time—albeit to have been only once—
on Earth, already written in stone, irrevocable.
And so we press on and want to fulfill it,
want to hold it in our artless hands,
congested in both gaze and speechless heart,
want to give it being—but for whom? Most of all
to hold onto forever . . . . Ah, in a different respect,
sadly: What ushers one across? Not awareness, here so
slowly discovered, and nothing that happens here. Nothing.
So, the pain; so, above all, the heaviness;
so, the long experience of love—so,
the blatently straightforward unutterable. But later,
among the stars—which are unutterably better—so what?
The traveler from the slopes of the mountainside doesn’t
bring a handfull of earth into the valley, the unutterable highway, but
rather an acquired word, pure—a yellow and blue
gentian. Are we perhaps here to say: house,
bridge, fountain, portal, jar, fruit-tree, window—
at best: pillar, tower . . . but to say them, audibly,
oh, to speak of things so, as they never themselves
inwardly meant to be. Isn’t it subtle cunning
when this reticent Earth persuades lovers
that in her each and every emotion is raprure?
Threshold: Why is it that two lovers
lay claim to that old doorway’s threshold for
a while, after the many before and before those
to come, and wear it down. . . slightly.
This is the passing—never right—time; this is its home.
Show and tell. More than ever
the things of experience collapse, for
what replaces displacement is an act without image.
What’s done under crusts will break open, as soon
the actions outgrow them and seek new limits.
Our heart thrives amid
its pounding, as the tongue
between the teeth—that,
nevertheless, continues to praise.
Praise the world to the angel, not the unutterable;
you can’t impress him with fulsome splendor; in the cosmos
of his awareness, you’re a novice. So present
him the simple, the generation-to-generation design—
how a family stays close at hand and in view.
Speak to him of things. He’ll stand as astonished as you stood
before that ropemaker in Rome, or that potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even plaintive, pure sorrow makes up its mind to take form,
serves as a thing, or dies in a thing—as in its hereafter the
late violin goes free—how these living things originated
in death understand that you extol them, transitory themselves,
and trust in their saving us, too—the most transient of all—
want us to render them completely invisible in the heart
of—O Unending!—of us! We who are always at the end.
Earth, isn’t that what you want: to arise
invisible in us? Isn’t it your dream
once and for all to be invisible? Earth! Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent comand?
Earth—dear love!—I want to. Oh, believe me, it needs
no more of your springtimes to attract me to you; any—
yes!—any single blossom is already too much.
Nameless, I’m absolutely yours from afar.
You were always right, and your most sacred insight
is the confidentiality of death.
Behold, I’m alive! Really? Neither childhood nor its future
will condense . . . . Surpurflous being
wells up in my heart.
The Tenth Elegy
That someday, at last emerging from such grim awareness,
I give jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
I give jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
That none among my heart’s clearly striking hammers
fail on slack, unfaithful, or tearing strings.
That my streaming countenance may shine;
that my every inconspicuous cry might bloom.
How shall you seem to me then—O hard nights!
of annealing anguish: that I’m a fool not to have knelt
before you, disconsolate sisters, to lose myself
in your loosened hair. We squander our sufferings
when, during their bitterness, we turn away from
them, fearing they’ll never end. But they’re our true
winter foliage, our dark evergreen, one season
of our hidden year—not only as time—namely:
space, settlement, encampment, ground, dwelling.
Yet how strangely foreign seem Suffering City’s backstreets,
where—in the drowned-out stillness, cast in the
mold of a strongly spewing spigot’s prating, a gold
plated racket—the bursting memorial is contrived.
Oh, how an angel would stomp their consolation market into
dust without trace—along with their abridged, store-bought
church, as sterile and locked-up as a post office on Sunday.
But always outside: the billowing edges of the fair.
Freedom rides! Divers and magicians of slavishness!
And the—figuratively speaking—ass-backward luck shooting range,
where one acts brassy if he runs into a more skillful shot,
and then flinches, missing his own. From cheers to chance
he staggers on, for any tents of curiosity—alluring with
drumming, and hawking: Adults only! Looking particularly
at how money reproduces itself, anatomically correct!
Not only for amusement: money’s genitals!
Everything! The whole process—instructive, and makes
you potent . . . .
. . . . Oh, but then—beyond the last
bilboard plastered over with ads for Deathless,
the bitter beer that always seems sweet to those drinking it,
while they chew fresh distractions—
just in back of that billboard, just behind, is truth.
Children play; lovers cradle one another—apart,
solemnly, in the peasant grass; dogs own nature.
Further still one’s drawn, and even further; perhaps he loves a young
Lament . . . . Following her, he comes into meadows. She says:
Far. We dwell way out there . . . . Where? And the youth
follows. Her carriage stirs him. The shoulder, the neck—perhaps
she’s of noble birth. But he leaves her, swings around,
averting her, declining . . . . So what? She’s a Lament.
Only the newly dead in the first stage
of timeless serenity—their weaning—
follow her on, lovingly. She waits
for girls and befriends them, quietly shows them
what she has—pearls of suffering and a fine
veil of tolerance. She goes with young men
But there—where they dwell in the valley—an ancient Lament
takes the youth on; when he asks, she says,
We were a great race, once, we Laments. The fathers
worked the mines there in the great mountains; among people
sometimes you find a polished piece of primal-suffering
or slag of petrified anger from old volcanos.
Yes, these came from there. Once we were rich . . . .
And she leads him deftly through the vast landscape of Lament,
shows him the temple columns or the rubble
of those castles from which the Lament Princes of yore
wisely ruled the land. Shows him the tall
tear trees and fields of blossoming wistfulness—
the living know it just as gentle foliage;
shows him the grazing herds of sorrow—and sometimes
a startled bird, flying low throuth their upturned gaze,
leaves a verbal image of its lonely cry writ large.
At evening she brings him up to the tombs of the Ancients
of the Lament Race, the Sibyls and Lords of Warning.
But as night approaches, they walk softly, silently; soon
moonrises the eternal tomb that watches over all, brother
to that of the Nile—the sublime Sphinx of crater-muted visage.
And they marvel at the crowned head that silently,
forever put the human face
on balance with the stars.
One can’t grasp it, his new death-vision
dizzied. But her gaze
flushes out an owl, from behind the double-crown’s edge. And they,
glancing with slow down-bowing along the cheek,
those most maturely rounded,
death-hear—better than from a doubly
opened page—its indescribable outline.
And higher, the stars. New—the stars of Suffering Land.
Slowly the Lament names them—Here,
the Rider, the Staff and the larger constellation
they call Fruitgarland. Then further, the Pole,
Cradle, Way; the Burning Book, Puppet, Window.
But in the southern heaven, pure in heart as written in
a blessed hand, the clear, shining M
That stands for Mother.
But the dead must go on, and silently the elder Lament
brings him up to the shady, narrow, little hollow
where, shimmering in the moonlight, pools
the source of joy. In awe
she utters its name; she says—Among people
it is a sustaining current.
They stop at the foot of the mountain
and she embraces him, weeping.
Alone, he ascends, drifting in the mountains of primal pain.
And not even his footsteps echo his unspoken lot.
But the endlessly dead bring us back a parable.
You see, they point, perhaps, to the empty Hazel,
its dangling catkin, or they
mean the rain that falls on darkening soil in the spring.
And we, thinking only of rising
fortune, feel the emotion
that almost startles us
when something happy falls.