Friday, February 3, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Second Elegy

Every angel is terrible.  And yet, alas,
when I hear of you, deadly birds of the soul,
I desire you.  How long since the days of Tobias,
when one of the radiant would stand at the plain front door,
slightly disguised for the journey, no longer alarming
(a young man to the young man looking curiously out).
If the archangel, perilous behind the stars, trod now 
only one step down here:  our own hearts
beating so high would kill us.  Who are you?

Early blessings, you coddle creation’s
mountain ranges, the red dawning edges 
of all making. - Pollen of blossoming godliness,
hinges of light, corridors, stairs, thrones,
expanses of being, shields of rapture, tumults
of stormily joyous feelings and suddenly, singly,
mirrors: which draw up again their own flowing beauty
into their own faces.

For we, when we feel, evaporate; ah, we
breathe ourselves out and away; from ember to ember
giving a fainter smell.  Here perhaps someone might say
yes, you enter my blood, this room, the spring
feels itself with you ... it’s no use, he can’t hold us,
we dwindle in and around him.  And those who are beautiful,
o who holds them back?  Appearance continuously 
enters and leaves their gaze.  As dew on the early grass
what is ours rises from us, as the heat of a
steaming dish.  O smile, where do you go?  O upturned glance:
new, warm, vanishing wave of hearts -;
alas, that’s what we are.  Does the universe 
in which we dissolve, taste of us?  Do angels capture
only their realness, streaming towards them,
or sometimes, in error, a little
of our being?  Are we only diffused
in their features, like a vagueness in the gaze
of pregnant women?  Unremarked in the vortex 
of their recoil to themselves.  (How should they remark it.)

Lovers might, if they understood, speak
amazedly in the night air. For it seems that everything
hides us.  See, the trees are; the houses 
we inhabit still persist.  Only we 
pass everything by like an exchange of air.
And everything unites to conceal us, half in 
shame perhaps and half in unsayable hope.

Lovers, you, who fulfil yourselves in each other,
I ask about us.  You seize yourselves.  Have you proofs?
See, what happens to me is that my hands 
move within one another, or my used
expression considers itself in them.  That gives me a little
sensation.  Yet who would gamble existence on that?
But you, who swell each other in rapture, until overcome you
implore: no more - ; you who under each other’s hands
grow ample as vintage grapes;
vanishing sometimes, only because the other
wholly seizes the upper hand: I ask you about us.  I know
you touch so blessedly because the caress persists,
because the place doesn’t fade, that you, fondlings,
conceal; because beneath it you feel
pure duration.  So your embrace almost
promises eternity.  And yet, when you endure
the first frightened glance, the yearning at the window,
and the first walk together, once through the garden:
lovers, do you yet exist?  When you join your mouths 
one to the other -: drink on drink:
o how oddly the drinkers elude their action.

Weren’t you amazed by the prudence of human gesture
on attic steles? weren’t love and departure placed
so lightly on shoulders, that they seemed to be made
from stuff other than us?  Think of the hands,
how they rest without weight, despite the strength of the torso.
Those masters knew this: we are so big
we encompass this, and may touch it so; the gods lean
hard against us.  But this is the business of gods.
Could we but find our own strip of orchard, 
contained, pure, narrow, human, 
between river and rock.  Then would our heart overstep us
even as theirs.  And we can no longer
gaze after it into those soothing figures, nor in 
those godly bodies, where it more modestly expands.

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon

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