Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Tenth Elegy

Sometime, leaving this violent vision,
I’ll sing up joy and glory to assenting angels.
Let none of the clearstruck hammers of my heart
fail against softening, uncertain or
rent strings.  Let my streaming face
shine forth; let the plain weeping
flower.  O grieving night, then you become to me
what love is.  Why didn’t I kneel before you, inconsolable sisters,
why not accept you, give my loosening
within your loosened hair.  We, spendthrifts of sorrows.
How we look away to the sad duration beyond them
to see if they end.  Truly they are but
our enduring winter leaf, our dark evergreen,
one of the seasons of the secret year - , not only
seasons, - are place, settlement, storehouse, ground, home.

How strange, alas, are the streets of the city of pain,
where in the falsity, uproar becomes a powerful
silence, and out of the mould of the void outpours,
bragging its gilded noise, this bursting monument.
O, how an angel would trample their market of solace,
and the fenced church, bought ready-made:
clean and shut and disillusioned as the post on Sunday.
But outside swirl the edges of carnival.
Swings of freedom! Divers and jugglers of passion!
And the embracing happiness of shooting galleries,
where the trick shot hits the target, fidgeting off
its tinplate.   From applause to chance
he staggers on; for booths enlist his every curiosity,
drumming and yelling.  Especially 
for adults: money’s anatomical reproduction!
more than just amusement: the genitals of money -
everything, the whole process - , worth seeing for instruction
and fertility...
  Oh but just outside, over there,
behind the final hoarding plastered with ads for “Deathless”,
that bitter beer which seems so sweet to drinkers
who always imbibe it with fresh dissipations,
just at the back of the hoarding, just behind, it’s real.
Children play and lovers hold one another, - aside,
earnestly, in the shabby grass, dogs follow nature.
It draws the youth further; perhaps he loves
a young Lament.  He comes up behind her in the meadows.  She says:
Far away.  We live out there...
     Where?  And the young man
follows.  Her posture moves him.  The shoulder, the throat - , perhaps
her origins are noble.  But he leaves her, 
turns away, waves.  What’s the use?  She’s just a Lament.

Only the young dead, in that first condition
of timeless equanimity, that of weaning,
follow her lovingly.  Girls
she awaits and befriends.  Gently she shows them
what she has on.  Pearls of pain and the fine
veils of endurance.  - She goes with the young men 
silently.

But where they live, in the valley, one of the older Laments
grabs the youth when he questions her: - We were,
she says, once a great family, we Lamentations.  Our fathers
worked the mines there in that huge range; among men
sometimes you find a polished fragment of original pain
or slaggy petrified rage from an old volcano.
Yes, that came from here.  Once we were rich. -

And lightly she leads him through the wide landscape of  Lament,
shows him the temple columns or the ruins
of towers, from where the Lament Lords wisely
ruled the land.  Shows him the high
tear trees and fields of blossoming sadness,
(the living know them only as gentle foliage);
shows him the pastured beasts of mourning, - and sometimes
a startled bird, flying straight through their upglance,
writes the distant image of its solitary cry. -
At evening she leads him on to the graves of the oldest
Lamentations, the sibyls and omen masters.
But night presses, so they walk more gently, and soon
the moon lifts up the sepulchre
that watches over everything.  Twin to the one of the Nile,
the lofty Sphinx - : the secret chambered
countenance.
And they are awed by the regal head, that forever
silently places human vision
on the scales of stars.

His sight can’t take it, dizzied 
by early death.  But her glance
from behind the pschent frightens an owl.  And its
slow downstroke brushes along the cheek,
the one with the ripest roundness,
sketches softly in the new
death-given hearing, over a doubly
upflapped page, the indescribable outline.

And higher, the stars.  New.  The stars of the Painlands.
Slowly the Lamentation names them:  “Here,
see: the Rider, the Staff, and that fuller constellation
they call Fruitwreath.  Then, further, towards the Pole,
Cradle, Way, The Burning Book, Doll, Window.
But in the southern sky, pure as the interior
of a blessed hand, the clear radiant M
that signifies mothers...”

But the dead must go on, and silently the older Lament 
brings him as far as the gorge,
where the source of joy 
shimmers in moonlight.  She names it
with reverence, saying: “Among men
it’s a sustaining stream.”

They stand at the foot of the range.
And there she embraces him, weeping.

Alone then he climbs the mountains of primal pain.
And his step never once rings on his soundless destiny.

But if they awakened a likeness within us, the endlessly dead,
they’d show us perhaps the catkins hanging
from empty hazels, or 
would mean rain falling on dark earth in the early year.  -

And we, who think of happiness
climbing, would feel the compassion
which almost confounds us,
when happiness falls
 
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon 

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