Daimon Publishers

Duino Elegies
by
Rainer-Maria Rilke

Excerpt

THE FIRST ELEGY

Who, if I cried out, would hear me then, out of the orders
of angels? and even supposing one suddenly took me
close to the heart, I would perish from that
stronger existence. For what strikes us as beauty is nothing
but all we can bear of a terror's beginning,
and we admire it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every angel strikes terror.
And thus I restrain myself and swallow the luring call
with dark sobs. Whom then, alas, are we able
to use in our need? Not angels, not men,
and the resourceful animals certainly notice
that we're not at home, not reliably,
in the interpreted world. There remains for us perhaps
some tree on the slope, that we might see it again
daily. There remain for us yesterday's street
and the ill-bred fidelity of a habit, one
that liked being with us and so it remained and wouldn't go.
O and the night, the night, when wind full of outer space
gnaws at our faces -, for whom wouldn't night remain, longed for,
gently disappointing, arduously waiting ahead
for each individual heart. Is night lighter for lovers?
They cover up one another, alas, hiding their lot from themselves.
You still don't know? Throw the emptiness out of your arms,
adding it to the spaces we breathe; perhaps birds
feel the expanded air with more intimate flight.
Yes, surely springtimes needed you. Several stars
presumed you'd be able to feel them. What had passed
rose into a wave and approached, or
as you went by an opened window
a violin yielded itself. All that was assignment.
But did you manage it? Weren't you still always
distracted by expectation, as if everything were
announcing a beloved to you? (Where indeed would
you shelter her, with those great strange thoughts
frequenting you, coming and going and often staying at night.)
But should yearning fill you, then sing the lovers. Their famous
feeling is by far not yet immortal enough.
Sing those forsaken ones, you envy them almost, whom you found
to be so much more loving than those who were gratified.
Begin ever anew the never-attainable praise;
think: the hero maintains himself, even decline was
merely a pretext for him to be: his last birth.
Lovers, however, exhausted nature takes back
into herself, as if there would not be the strength twice
to achieve this. Have you sufficiently called
Gaspara Stampa to mind, so that some girl
whose lover eluded her feels from this lover's
heightened example: that I might become like her?
Shouldn't these oldest pains finally become
more fruitful for us? Isn't it time that we free ourselves loving
from whom we are loving and, trembling, survive it:
as the arrow survives the string, so that gathered in leaping
it is more than itself. For abiding is nowhere.
Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, the way only saints
otherwise listened: letting the enormous call lift them
up from the ground; but they, impossible ones,
continued to kneel and paid no attention:
that was how they were listening. Not that God's is a voice
you could bear, far from it. But what is blowing like breeze, listen to that,
the uninterrupted message forming itself out of stillness.
It's rustling to you now from those young dead.
Wherever you entered, in churches in Rome and in Naples,
didn't their unruffled fate address you?
Or an inscription sublimely passed itself on to you,
like the tablet lately in Santa Maria Formosa.
And what they want of me? Quietly I should cast aside
the look of injustice that sometimes hinders
their spirits' pure movement a little.
It is strange, of course, not to inhabit the earth any more,
no longer to practice hardly learned customs,
not to give roses and other especially promising things
the meaning of human future;
no longer to be what in endlessly anxious hands
one was, and even to let one's own name go
like a shattered toy.
Strange, not to keep wishing one's wishes. Strange,
to see everything that relation had joined so loosely
fluttering in space. And being dead is toilsome
and full of catching up, so that one gradually feels
a little eternity. - But the living all make
the mistake of distinguishing too sharply.
Angels (it is said) often go about without knowing
if they're with the living or dead. The eternal current
always sweeps through both realms, carrying all ages
with it and drowning them out in both.
Finally, they no longer need us, the early departed,
one weans oneself gently from earthliness, as one mildly
outgrows the breasts of the mother. But we, who need such
great mysteries, for whom out of mourning so often
blissful progress arises -: would we be able, without them, to be?
Is the legend of no avail, how in the lament about Linos
daring first music once pierced through parched numbness;
how it was only in startled space, which an almost divine youth
had suddenly stepped from for ever, where emptiness first entered
that motion that sweeps us away now and comforts and helps us.

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