Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Ninth Elegy

Why, when it approaches, the interval of life
surges forward, as laurel, a little darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on every
leaf edge (like a smiling wind) -:  why then
must we be human - and, shunning destiny,
long for destiny ...
   Oh, not because there is happiness,
that hurried gain so close to loss.
Not out of curiosity, nor for the heart’s use
which was also in the laurel .....
But because being here is so much and all that is here
seems to desire us, these vanishings, that so strangely
approach us.  Us, the most vanishing.  Each thing once,
only once.  Once and no more.  And we also
once.  Never again.  But this
once was real, even if only once:
earthly and real, shining beyond revocation.

And so we compel ourselves and will to achieve it,
will to hold in our simple hands,
in the generous glance and in speechless hearts.
Will to become it.  To give to whom?  We’d love
to keep it forever.  Ah, to that other dimension,
woe, what can be taken there?  Not that intuitive sight, learnt here
so slowly, and nothing that happened here.  Nothing.
Thus the sorrows.  Thus, most of all, the weight of being,
thus love’s slow unfolding - thus
the purely unsayable.  But later,
under the stars, what then:  they are better unsaid.
Yet the wanderer brings from the mountain edge
not a handful of speechless earth, but a word
hard-won, absolute, the yellow and blue
gentian.  Perhaps we are here to say:  house,
bridge, spring, gate, jug, fruit-tree, window -
at most:  column, tower ...  But to say, you understand,
oh to say in such a way that these things never
meant so intensely to be.  Isn’t the secret cunning
of this reticent earth, when she urges lovers,
simply that each and each rejoice in their feeling?
Threshold: what is it for two
lovers, that they should slightly wear down
the older threshold of that door, they too, after so many before them
and in the future ...., lightly.

Here is the sayable time, here its home.
Speak and confess.  More than ever
things fall away, our experiences, as 
they are driven out and replaced by an imageless act.
Act under crusts that will split whenever
the business inside outgrows them and finds other outlines.
Between the hammer endures
the heart, as the tongue
between the teeth, that yet
nevertheless still praises.

Praise the world to the angel, not the unsayable, to him
you can’t brag of magnificent beatitude:  in the world
where he so feelingly feels, you are a novice.  So show
him the simple, formed from generation to generation,
which lives as a part of ourselves near the hand and in looking.
Tell him the Things.  He will stand astonished, as you stood
beside the roper in Rome or by the Egyptian potter.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even complaining grief purely decides on a form,
serves as a thing, or dies into a thing, - and beyond
approaches the bliss of a violin.  And these things, which live
by departure, understand that you celebrate them; transitory,
surely they rescue us, the most transient.
They want us to change them wholly in our invisible hearts
into - o endlessly - into ourselves! which finally also we are.

Earth, isn’t this what you want:  invisibly
rising within us?  Isn’t your dream
just once to be invisible?  Earth!  Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent order?
Earth, my love, I will.  Oh faith, my yielding to you needs
no more of your springs, one, 
ah, only one is already too much for my blood.
I’ve been namelessly yours from the very beginning.
You were always right, and your holiest insight
is this intimate death.
See, I live.  On what?  Neither childhood nor the future
dwindles .....  Supernumerous being
springs in my heart.

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon

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