Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Fifth Elegy

For Frau Hertha Koenig

But who are they, tell me, these vagrants, a little
more fugitive even than us, in their springtime
so urgently wrung by one who - who pleases
a never contented will?  So it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, swings them, 
flings them and catches them behind:  out of the oil-smooth
air they come down
onto the flimsy carpet worn
by their eternal leaping, this forlorn
carpet lost in the universe.
Stuck on like a plaster, as if there the suburban
sky had wounded the earth.
    And scarcely there,
upright, there and shown:  the vast
initial letter of Being ..., so the strongest
men roll again to the joke, that ever
approaching grip, like a tin plate rolled by August the Strong
along a table.

Ah and around this 
centre, the rose of looking:
blooms and defoliates.  Around this
pestle, the pistil, stricken
by its own blooming pollen again
conceiving illusory fruits of disgust, never
aware of it, - bright with flimsy
surfaces the frail smile-sheen of disgust.

There, the flabby, wrinkled strongman,
old and now only drumming,
decayed in his mighty skin, as if once
two men lived there and one
lay now in the graveyard, and the other outlived him,
deaf and sometimes a little
bewildered in his widowed skin.

But the young man like the son of a thug
and a nun: he’s strong and stuffed full
of muscles and simpleness.

Oh you,
who once were given a pain, that was still
small, like a toy, in one of your
slow convalescences....

You, who fall with the shock
only fruits know, upripely
a hundred times daily out of the commonly built
tree of motion (that, quicker than water, in a short
minute bears spring, summer and autumn) -
fall and crash to the grave:
sometimes, in half a pause, a loving face wants
to grow beyond you towards your seldomly
tender mother; but it loses itself in your body
which smoothly consumes it, that shy, 
scarcely attempted expression ...  And again
the man claps his hand to begin the leap and before
an ache forms distinctly near your perpetually
jogging heart, the brands of footsoles
arrive, its origin, driving before them with pain
the quick and carnal tears into your eyes.
And yet, blindly,
the smile .....

Angel! o take, pluck, the small-flowered leaves of healing.
Make a vase to preserve them!  Place among them our yet
unopening gladness; inscribe the lovely urn
with flowering, soaring praise:
          Subrisio Saltat.

You then, darling,
you, mutely leapt over
by the most bewitching of joys.  Perhaps
your frills are happy for you - ,
or over your young
taut breasts the green metallic silk
feels itself endlessly pampered and wanting nothing.
constantly place on all the swaying scales of equilibrium 
under your public shoulders 
a marketfruit of equanimity.

Where, o where is the place, - I carry it in my heart - ,
where still they can do nothing, still fall away
from each other, like mounting animals
wrongly coupled; -
where the weights are still heavy,
where from their vainly
whirling sticks the plates
stagger and fall .....

And suddenly in this laborious nowhere, suddenly
the unsayable place, where the pure too-little
inexplicably changes - , leaps
into that empty too-much.
Where the many-numbered calculation
numberlessly resolves.

Plaza o plaza in Paris, infinite theatre,
where the modiste, Madame Lamort,
knots and winds those endless ribbons,
the restless ways of the earth, inventing new
nooses, ruffles, flowers, cockades, artificial fruits  -  all
falsely coloured - for the cheap
winterhats of destiny.


Angel: there’s a place that we don’t know, and there
on some unsayable carpet, lovers display what now
they can never bring up to knowing - their bold
high figures of heartplay, 
their towers of pleasure, their
long-since groundless ladders, leaning
on only each other, tremulously, - and understand
before the surrounding onlookers, the innumerable soundless dead:
Wouldn’t the dead then throw their last, ever-hoarded,
ever-concealed, unknown, eternally
valid coins of luck before the finally
truly-smiling pair on the stilled

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon

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