Wednesday, February 12, 2014

RILKE: THE SEVENTH ELEGY


Not wooing, no longer shall wooing, voice that has outgrown it,

be the nature of your cry, but instead, you would cry out as purely as a bird

when the quickly ascending season lifts him up, nearly forgetting

that he is a suffering creature and not just a single heart

being flung into brightness, into the intimate skies. Just like him

you would be wooing, not any less purely—, so that, still

unseen, she would sense you, the silent lover in whom a reply

slowly awakens and, as she hears you, grows warm,—

the ardent companion to your own most daring emotion.


Oh and springtime would hold it—, everywhere it would echo

the song of annunciation. First the-small

questioning notes intensified all around

by the sheltering silence of a pure, affirmative day.

Then up the stairs, up the stairway of calls, to the dreamed-of

temple of the future—; and then the trill, like a fountain

which, in its rising jet, already anticipates its fall

in a game of promises. . . . And still ahead: summer.

Not only all the dawns o£ summer—, not only

how they change themselves into day and shine with beginning.

Not only thee days, so tender around flowers and, above

around the patterned treetops, so strong, so intense.

Not only the reverence of all these unfolded powers,

not only the pathways, not only the meadows at sunset,

not only, after a late storm, the deep-breathing freshness,

not only approaching sleep, and a premonition . . .

but also the nights! But also the lofty summer

nights, and the stars as well, the stars of the earth.

Oh to be dead at least and know them endlessly,

all the stars: for how, how could we ever forget them!


Look, I was calling for my love. But not just she

would come . . . Out of their fragile graves

girls would arise and gather . . . For how could I limits

the call, once I called it? These unripe spirits keep seeking

the earth.—Children, one earthly Thing

truly experienced , even once, is enough for a lifetime.

Don't think that fate is more than the density of childhood;

how often you outdistanced the man you loved, breathing, breathing

after the blissful chase, and passed on into freedom.


Truly being here is glorious. Even you knew it,

you girls who seemed to be lost, to go under - in the filthiest

streets of the city, festering there, or wide open

for garbage. For each of you had an hour, or perhaps

not even an hour, a barely measurable time

between two moments—, when you were granted a sense

of being. Everything. Your veins flowed with being.

But we can so easily forget what our laughing neighbor

neither confirms nor envies. We want to display it,

to make it visible. We want to display it,

to make it visible, though even the most visible

happiness can't reveal itself to us until we transform it, within.


Nowhere, Beloved, will world be but within us. Our life

passes in transformation. And the external

shrinks into less and less. Where once an enduring house was,

now a cerebral structure crosses our path, completely

belonging to the realm of concepts, as though it still stood in the brain.

Our age has built itself vast reservoirs of power,

formless as the straining energy that it wrests from the earth.

Temples are no longer known. It is we who secretly save up

these extravagances of the heart. Where one of them still survives,

a Thing that was formerly prayed to, worshipped, knelt before—

just as it is, it passes into the invisible world.

Many no longer perceive it, yet miss the chance

to build it inside themselves now, with pillars and statues: greater.


Each torpid turn of the world has such disinherited ones,

to whom neither the past belongs, nor yet what has nearly arrived.

For even the nearest moment is far from mankind. Though we

should not be confused by this, but strengthened in our task of preserving

the still-recognizable form.— This once stood among mankind,

in the midst of Fate the annihilator, in the midst

of Not-Knowing-Whither, it stood as if enduring, and bent

stars down to it from their safeguarded heavens. Angel,

to you I will show it, there! in your endless vision

it shall stand, now finally upright, rescued at last.

Pillars, pylons, the Sphinx, the striving thrust

of the cathedral, gray, from a fading or alien city.


Wasn't all this a miracle? Be astonished, Angel, for we

are this, O Great One; proclaim that we could achieve this, my breath

is too short for such praise. So. after all, we have not

failed to make use of these generous spaces, these

spaces of ours.. (How frighteningly great they must be,

since thousands of years have not made them overflow with our feelings.)

But a tower was great, wasn't it? Oh Angel, it was—

even when placed beside you? Chartres was great—, and music

reached still higher and passed far beyond us. But even

a woman in love—, oh alone at night by her window. . . .

didn't she reach your knee—?

                                                  Don't think that I'm wooing.

Angel, and even if I were, you would not come. For my call

is always filled with departure; against such a powerful

current you cannot move. Like an outstretched arm

is my call. And its hand, held open and reaching up

to seize, remains in front of you, open

as if in defense and warning,

Ungraspable One, far above.



(Translation by Stephen Mitchell)

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