Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke - Duino Elegies (First Elegy)

Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the ranks
of angels? and even supposing one clutched
me suddenly to its heart: I would perish from the
power of its presence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear,
and it amazes us so, because it nonchalantly declines
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.
And so I restrain myself and choke back the call
of my dark wailing. Oh, who can we turn to
in our need? Not angels, not men,
and the perceptive beasts already sense
that we are not very secure or at home
in the interpreted world. We are left with perhaps
some tree on the mountainside, that we see again
each day; we are left with yesterday's street
and the perverse loyalty of a habit,
that liked us so much that it stayed and never left.

Oh and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
sucks at our face - for whom would it not stay,
deceptive, difficult for the solitary heart
to confront. Is it any easier for lovers?
Ah, they only conceal their fates in each other.

Don't you know yet? Hurl the emptiness from your arms
out to the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will respond to the expanded air with more fervent flight.


Still, it is peculiar to inhabit the Earth no longer,
to no more practice barely-learned customs,
for roses and other especially auspicious things
to have no significance for a human future;
what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
to be no more, and to leave behind
even one's own name like a broken toy.
Peculiar, to no longer desire one's desires. Peculiar,
to see everything related to one's self
floating off into space. And being dead is laborious
and full of catching up, before one gradually senses
a trace of eternity - yet the living always
make the mistake of drawing too-sharp distinctions.
Angels (they say) often don't know, whether they pass among
the living or the dead. The eternal torrent
sweeps through both realms carrying all ages
with it and drowns them out in both.

In the end the early departed have no longer
need of us. One is gently weaned from things
of this world as a child outgrows the need
of its mother's breast. But we who have need
of those great mysteries, we for whom grief is
so often the source of spiritual growth,
could we exist without them?
Is the legend vain that tells of music's beginning
in the midst of the mourning for Linos?
the daring first sounds of song piercing
the barren numbness, and how in that stunned space
an almost godlike youth suddenly left forever,
and the emptiness felt for the first time
those harmonious vibrations which now enrapture
and comfort and help us.

No comments: