Monday, February 13, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Eighth Elegy

For Rudolph Kassner

With all its eyes the creaturely sees
the open.  But our eyes are
as if reversed and placed all round it
like snares ringing its free departure.
What is outside, we know from the beast’s 
face only: for we turn around
the early child and force it to see formation
backwards, not the open, which is so deep
in beastsight.  Free from death.
Only we see death; the free beast
has its going down behind it
and before it god, and when it goes, goes
into eternity, like a running spring.
We have never, not for a single day,
the pure space before us, in which flowers
unendingly burst open.  It is always world
and never nowhere without no:
that pureness, that unwatched, which one breathes and 
endlessly knows and never wants.  But a child
might lose himself inside the quiet and become
shaken.  Or someone dies and is.
For near to death one sees that death no more
and stares ahead, perhaps with a beast’s huge glance.
Lovers, were not the other barring
sight, are nearby, astounded . . .
As if in error one is lifted
behind the other.  But beyond him
nothing emerges, and world returns.
The universe is always empathetic, we see
there only reflections of freedom
darkened by us.  Or an animal’s
dumb glance, silent through and through.
These rule destiny: to be opposite
and nothing else and always opposite.

Were the awareness of our species in the
sure beast, which pulls towards us
from another direction - , it would drag us 
into its mutability.  But for the beast its being is
unending, unprepared, and without insight
of its belonging, pure, like its outward glance.
And where we see future, there it sees all
and itself in all and healed for always.

And yet in the wakeful warm animal
is the weight and sorrow of a huge dejection.
For it also clings to what often
overwhelms us, - a memory,
that what we thrust after, was formerly
nearer, truer and its connection
endlessly tender.  Here all is distance,
and there was breath.  After the first home
the second is ambiguous and windy.
O bliss of tiny creatures
which remain always in the womb which carries them;
o happiness of the gnat, which still hops within,
even on its wedding: for womb is all.
And see the half assurance of a bird,
which almost knows both through its origin,
as if it were one of those Etruscan souls
received by space out of a corpse
whose silent figure is its lid.
And how dismayed is one which must fly
out of its native womb.  As if it is
afraid of itself, it zigzags through the air, like a crack
running through a cup.  So the track
of a bat rends through the porcelain evening.

And we: onlookers, always, over all,
interested in everything, and never looking out!
Overfills us.  We order.  It decays.
We order again and ourselves decay.

Who turned us thus around, so we,
no matter what, have the pose 
of one who is departing? As he who on
the last hill which still shows
his whole valley, will turn, halt, pause -,
so we live, forever taking leave. 
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon

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