Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Duino Elegies: The Third Elegy

One thing to sing the beloved.  Another, alas,
that hidden guilty rivergod of blood.
Her distantly known boy, her lover, what does he know
of the lords of lust, who often, out of his loneliness,
before the girl soothes him, often as if she doesn’t exist, 
overflow, ah, from what unrecognisable, heaving the godhead
up, rousing the night to unending uproar.
O the blood’s Neptune, his awesome trident!
O the dark blast of his breast from the winding shell!
Hear how the night hollows itself.  You stars,
doesn’t the lover’s delight in the face of his loved one
stem from you?  Doesn’t his ardent insight
into her pure sight come from the purest star?

Not for you, alas, nor for his mother
is the taut bow of his expectation.
Not for you, girl who feels him, not for you
does his lip bend to fertile expression.
Did you really think that your lighter appearance
would shake him, you, who step like an early wind?
Of course you terrified his heart; but older terrors
hurled into him at the shock of touch.
Call him - you can’t call him back from those dark companions.
Of course, he wants to, he springs; lightened he settles 
himself in your homely heart and grasps and begins himself.
But did he ever begin himself?
Mother, you made him small, it was you who began him;
to you he was new, you bent over those new
eyes the friendly world and averted the strange.
Where, ah where are the years when just for him 
with your slender form you trod back the boiling chaos?
You hid so much from him; that nightly suspected room
you made harmless: out of your heart’s full refuge 
you mixed human space into his night-space.
Not within darkness, no, in your nearer being
you set the nightlight, and it shone as if out of friendship.
Nowhere a creak your smile didn’t explain,
as if you’d long known when the plank would behave so.
And he heard you and relaxed.  You managed so much
tenderly standing there; his tall mantled destiny stepped
behind the cupboard, and in the folds of the curtain
lay neatly what so easily slips, his unruly future.

And he himself, as he lay, relieved, under
sleepy lids your lightening form
loosening sweetly into the foretaste of sleep - :
seeming protection.  But inside: what checked,
what hindered inside him the floods of origin?
Ah, there was no caution in that sleeper; sleeping,
but dreaming, but in fever: he sank himself.
He, new, fearful, how he was tangled
in the long vines of inner event
winding already to intricate patterns, to strangling growths, to bestial
predatory forms.  How he gave himself up - .  Loved.
Loved his innerness, his interior wilderness,
these ur-forests within him, on whose mute collapse
stood his greenlit heart.  Loved.  Left it, and went
down to his roots and out to immense beginning
where his small birth was already outlived.  Lovingly
lifted down into older blood, the ravines
where horror lay, gorged with his fathers.  And every
terror knew him, winking, was so understanding.
Yes, atrocity smiled. . .  Seldom
have you smiled so tenderly, mother.  How could he
not love what smiled at him.  He loved it
before you, for even as you bore him
it loosened inside the waters that lighten the seed.

See, we don’t love like flowers, for one
single year; we raise, when we love,
immemorial sap in our arms.  O girl,
this: that we love inside us, not one, a possible, but
numberless brewings; not a single child,
but the fathers who root as ruinous mountains
in the ground of us; but the parched riverbeds
of earlier mothers - ; but the entire
noiseless landscape under its clouded or
clear destiny: these, girl, forestalled you. 

And you yourself, what do you know - , you coax 
deep pasts up in your lover.  What feelings
swelled out of mutable substance?  What women
hated you there?  What sinister men
did you rouse in the veins of boys?  Dead
children reached towards you. . . O softly, softly,
make love for him, a solid day’s work, - lead him
close to the garden, give him the night’s
excess. . . . .
  Restrain him. . . . .
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Alison Croggon

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