Again and Again

[Again and again, however we know the landscape of love]

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Again and again, however we know the landscape of love

and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,

and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others

fall: again and again the two of us walk out together

under the ancient trees, lie down again and again

among the flowers, face to face with the sky.

From Ahead of All Parting:
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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Whoever Grasps

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Robert Bly

Whoever grasps the thousand contradictions of his life,
pulls them together into a single image, that man, joyful
and thankful, drives the rioters out of the palace,
becomes celebratory in a different way, and you are the guest
whom he receives on the quiet evenings.

You are the second person in his solitude,
the tranquil hub of his talking with himself;
and every circle he draws around you
lifts him out of time on those compass legs.

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Archaic Torso of Apollo

By Rainer Maria Rilke

We’ll never know the incredible head
where his eyes ripen like apples. No,
but that torso is a gas lamp, and in its glow
his gaze does appear, turned down instead,

but hovering, glistening. Otherwise the arc of his breast
wouldn’t dazzle you, and in the slight
twist of his loins a smile wouldn’t alight
in the center, where the virile parts nest.

Otherwise this stone would be stunted, marred
under those shoulders that plunge hard,
wouldn’t flicker like a wild animal’s coat;

wouldn’t burst from its edges, knife
like a star: there’s nowhere on him so remote
it doesn’t see you: you’ve got to change your life.

Translation © 2014 by Zack Rogow

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Duino Elegies – The Third Elegy

By Rainer Maria Rilke

It is one thing to sing the beloved. Another, alas,
to invoke that hidden, guilty river-god of the blood.
Her young lover, whom she knows from far away-what
does he know of
the lord of desire who often, up from the depths of his
solitude,
even before she could soothe him, and as though she didn’t
exist,
held up his head, ah, dripping with the unknown,
erect, and summoned the night to an endless uproar.
Oh the Neptune inside our blood, with his appalling trident.
Oh the dark wind from his breast out of that spiraled conch.
Listen to the night as it makes itself hollow. O stars,
isn’t it from you that the lover’s desire for the face
of his beloved arises? Doesn’t his secret insight
into her pure features come from the pure constellations?

Not you, his mother: alas, you were not the one
who bent the arch of his eyebrows into such expectation.
Not for you, girl so aware of him, not for your mouth
did his lips curve themselves into a more fruitful expression.
Do you really think that your gentle steps could have shaken
him
with such violence, you who move like the morning breeze?
Yes, you did frighten his heart; but more ancient terrors
plunged into him at the shock of that feeling. Call him . . .
but you can’t quite call him away from those dark
companions.
Of course, he wants to escape, and he does; relieved, he
nestles
into your sheltering heart, takes hold, and begins himself.
But did he ever begin himself, really?
Mother, you made him small, it was you who started him;
in your sight he was new, over his new eyes you arched
the friendly world and warded off the world that was alien.
Ah, where are the years when you shielded him just by
placing
your slender form between him and the surging abyss?
How much you hid from him then. The room that filled
with suspicion
at night: you made it harmless; and out of the refuge of your
heart
you mixed a more human space in with his night-space.
And you set down the lamp, not in that darkness, but in
your own nearer presence, and it glowed at him like a friend.
There wasn’t a creak that your smile could not explain,
as though you had long known just when the floor would do
that…
And he listened and was soothed. So powerful was your
presence
as you tenderly stood by the bed; his fate,
tall and cloaked, retreated behind the wardrobe, and his
restless
future, delayed for a while, adapted to the folds of the
curtain.

And he himself, as he lay there, relieved, with the sweetness
of the gentle world you had made for him dissolving beneath
his drowsy eyelids, into the foretaste of sleep-:
he seemed protected . . . But inside: who could ward off,
who could divert, the floods of origin inside him?
Ah, there was no trace of caution in that sleeper; sleeping,
yes but dreaming, but flushed with what fevers: how he
threw himself in.
All at once new, trembling, how he was caught up
and entangled in the spreading tendrils of inner event
already twined into patterns, into strangling undergrowth,
prowling
bestial shapes. How he submitted-. Loved.
Loved his interior world, his interior wilderness,
that primal forest inside him, where among decayed
treetrunks
his heart stood, light-green. Loved. Left it, went through
his own roots and out, into the powerful source
where his little birth had already been outlived. Loving,
he waded down into more ancient blood, to ravines
where Horror lay, still glutted with his fathers. And every
Terror knew him, winked at him like an accomplice.
Yes, Atrocity smiled . . . Seldom
had you smiled so tenderly, mother. How could he help
loving what smiled at him. Even before he knew you,
he had loved it, for already while you carried him inside you,
it
was dissolved in the water that makes the embryo weightless.
No, we don’t accomplish our love in a single year
as the flowers do; an immemorial sap
flows up through our arms when we love. Dear girl,
this: that we loved, inside us, not One who would someday
appear, but
seething multitudes; not just a single child,
but also the fathers lying in our depths
like fallen mountains; also the dried-up riverbeds
of ancient mothers-; also the whole
soundless landscape under the clouded or clear
sky of its destiny-: all this, my dear, preceded you.
And you yourself, how could you know
what primordial time you stirred in your lover. What
passions
welled up inside him from departed beings. What
women hated you there. How many dark
sinister men you aroused in his young veins. Dead
children reached out to touch you . . . Oh gently, gently,
let him see you performing, with love, some confident daily
task,-
lead him out close to the garden, give him what outweighs
the heaviest night . . . . . .
Restrain him . . . . . .

From Ahead of All Parting:
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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Duino Elegies – The Tenth Elegy

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Robert Hunter

That someday, delivered at last
from this terrifying vision,
I might sing out in praise and
jubilation unto approving angels;
that no single tone shall fail
to sound due to a slack,
a doubtful or a broken string
when clearly struck by
the hammer of my heart;
that my joyful face
might stream with radiance
and these hidden tears at last
erupt in blossoms fully blown,
I must learn to hold these
nights of anguish dear!
O Sisters Of Lament,
why did I not kneel
more lowly to receive you-
surrender myself more fully
to your loose and flowing hair?
We are wastrels of our sorrows,
gazing beyond them into the
desolate reaches of endurance
where we seek to know their ends.
They are but our winter foliage,
our somber evergreen,
a single season of our inner year;
nor season only, but land,
colony, storehouse,
floor and residence.

It is certain, alas,
that we are strangers
to the alleys of the
City of Sorrow, where
in the falsified silence
born of continual clatter,
the mold of emptiness ejects
a strutting figure: the gilded din,
the exploding memorial.
O, with what finality
would an angel trample to dust
their marketplace of consolation,
bounded by the church with its
off-the-rack indulgences: as
tidy, dull and shut tight
as a post office on Sunday.
Outside, always, curls
the edge of the carnival.
Swings of freedom!
High divers and
dedicated jugglers!
And cosmeticized fortune’s
metaphoric shooting gallery
whose tin targets clang and
spin when struck by some
marksman’s chance shot-
who, dizzy with applause,
seeking further luck,
stumbles down the midway
where diverse attractions
seduce, drum and hawk their wares.
For adults only-a special attraction:
graphic reproduction of currency!
Titillating! The sex life of money,
in the nude, gonads and all,
before your very eyes-
educational and guaranteed
to enhance your virility….
Beyond the last billboard-
plastered with ads for “Deathless,”
the bitter beer, sweet
to those who drink it
(so long as they nibble fresh
distractions between sips)-
behind the billboard,
just to the rear: the real world.
Children play and lovers touch,
off to the side,
intent in the thin grass,
while dogs do as nature bids.
A youth is drawn further on,
enamoured of a young Lament.
Into the fields he follows-
“Beyond,” says she,
“far distant do we dwell!”
“Where?” he inquires,
by her bearing swayed.
Her shoulder, her neck,
bespeak a noble origin.
Anon he leaves her;
turns…waves.
What’s the use?
She is a lament.

Only those who died young,
in the primordial equanimity
of their weaning,
follow her lovingly.
She waits for maidens
and befriends them,
gently shows them
her attire: pearls
of sorrow and veils
fine-spun of patience.
Alongside young men
she walks in silence.

Beyond, in the valley
where they dwell, an
elderly Lament fondly indulges
a youth who questions her.
“Once,” she tells him, “we were
a great family, we Laments.
Our fathers worked the mines
of yon mountain range.
Among men you still might find,
at times, a polished lump
of original sorrow-or a nugget
of petrified rage from the slag
of some ancient volcano.
Aye, from yonder range it came.
We once were wealthy.”

And lightly she leads him through
the spacious landscape of Lament,
shows him the pillars of the temples
and the crumbled towers from which,
in olden days, the Lords of Lament
so wisely ruled… shows him the
tall trees of tears and the fields
of woe full flowered
(such woe as the living know
only as a shrub unbudded);
shows him the herds of grief
where they stand grazing.
Once in awhile a startled bird,
darting through their skyward gaze,
inscribes its lonely cry upon the clouds.
At dusk she leads him to the graves
of the sibyls and dire prophets-
of all the Lords of Lament
the longest lived.
As night lowers, their steps slacken
and soon, rising like the moon,
the Guardian Sepulchre is seen,
kin to the Sphinx of Nile fame,
lofty in cavernous countenance.
They marvel at the regal head
which silently presents the human
face to be weighed upon the
scale of the stars, eternally.

His sight cannot grasp it,
giddy still from early death,
but her’s startles an owl from
behind the rim of the crown,
who brushes the rounder of
his cheeks, leaving a faint
impression upon the new
hearing born of his death;
an indescribable outline
scrawled as though across
the leaves of an open book.

And higher, the stars. New.
Stars of the Land of Lament.
Slowly the elder names their names:
“Look there: the Rider, the Staff,
and that larger constellation
they call the Fruit Garland.
Higher still, toward the Pole,
the Cradle, the Path, the
Burning Book, the Doll, the Window.
In the southern sky,
clearcut as the lines within
a consecrated hand,
sparkles the luminous M
denoting Mothers.”

But the dead must away
and silently the Elder Lament
leads him as far as the Arroyo,
where gleaming in the moonlight
springs the source of joy.
With reverence she names it,
saying: “Endlessly it flows
into the world of men.”

They stand at the mountain’s foot.
Weeping, she embraces him.

Alone, he starts his climb
up the peak of Primal Pain.
Not once do his footsteps echo
from this soundless path of fate.
Were the endlessly dead
to awaken some symbol,
within us, to indicate
themselves, they might
point to the catkins
dangling from the leafless
branches of the Hazel trees.
Or speak in drops of rain
falling to dark earth
in early spring.

Then we,
who have known joy
only as it escapes us,
rising to the sky,
would receive the
overwhelming benediction
of happiness descending.

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Duino Elegies – The Second Elegy

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Every Angel is terror. And yet,

ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly

birds of the soul. Where are the days of Tobias,

when one of the most radiant of you stood at the simple threshold,

disguised somewhat for the journey and already no longer awesome

(Like a youth, to the youth looking out curiously).

Let the Archangel now, the dangerous one, from behind the stars,

take a single step down and toward us: our own heart,

beating on high would beat us down. What are you?

 

Early successes, Creation’s favourite ones,

mountain-chains, ridges reddened by dawns

of all origin – pollen of flowering godhead,

junctions of light, corridors, stairs, thrones,

spaces of being, shields of bliss, tempests

of storm-filled, delighted feeling and, suddenly, solitary

mirrors: gathering their own out-streamed beauty

back into their faces again.

 

For we, when we feel, evaporate: oh, we

breathe ourselves out and away: from ember to ember,

yielding us fainter fragrance. Then someone may say to us:

‘Yes, you are in my blood, the room, the Spring-time

is filling with you’….. What use is that: they cannot hold us,

we vanish inside and around them. And those who are beautiful,

oh, who holds them back? Appearance, endlessly, stands up,

in their face, and goes by. Like dew from the morning grass,

what is ours rises from us, like the heat

from a dish that is warmed. O smile: where? O upward gaze:

new, warm, vanishing wave of the heart – :

oh, we are that. Does the cosmic space,

we dissolve into, taste of us then? Do the Angels

really only take back what is theirs, what has streamed out of them,

or is there sometimes, as if by an oversight, something

of our being, as well? Are we as mingled with their

features, as there is vagueness in the faces

of pregnant women? They do not see it in the swirling

return to themselves. (How should they see it?)

 

Lovers, if they knew how, might utter

strange things in night air. Since it seems

everything hides us. Look, trees exist; houses,

we live in, still stand. Only we

pass everything by, like an exchange of air.

And all is at one, in keeping us secret, half out of

shame perhaps, half out of inexpressible hope.

 

Lovers, each satisfied in the other, I ask

you about us. You grasp yourselves. Have you a sign?

Look, it happens to me, that at times my hands

become aware of each other, or that my worn face

hides itself in them. That gives me a slight

sensation. But who would dare to exist only for that?

You, though, who grow in the other’s delight

until, overwhelmed, they beg:

‘No more’ -: you, who under your hands

grow richer like vintage years of the vine:

who sometimes vanish, because the other

has so gained the ascendancy: I ask you of us. I know

you touch so blissfully because the caress withholds,

because the place you cover so tenderly

does not disappear: because beneath it you feel

pure duration. So that you promise eternity

almost, from the embrace. And yet, when you’ve endured

the first terrible glances, and the yearning at windows,

and the first walk together, just once, through the garden:

Lovers, are you the same? When you raise yourselves

one to another’s mouth, and hang there – sip against sip:

O, how strangely the drinker then escapes from their action.

 

Weren’t you amazed by the caution of human gesture

on Attic steles? Weren’t love and departure

laid so lightly on shoulders, they seemed to be made

of other matter than ours? Think of the hands

how they rest without weight, though there is power in the torso.

Those self-controlled ones know, through that: so much is ours,

this is us, to touch our own selves so: the gods

may bear down more heavily on us. But that is the gods’ affair.

If only we too could discover a pure, contained

human place, a strip of fruitful land of our own,

between river and stone! For our own heart exceeds us,

even as theirs did. And we can no longer

gaze after it into images, that soothe it, or into

godlike bodies, where it restrains itself more completely.

 

Translated by A. S. Kline
© 2001 All Rights Reserved

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You, you only, exist

By Rainer Maria Rilke

You, you only, exist.
We pass away, till at last,
our passing is so immense
that you arise: beautiful moment,
in all your suddenness,
arising in love, or enchanted
in the contraction of work.

To you I belong, however time may
wear me away. From you to you
I go commanded. In between
the garland is hanging in chance; but if you
take it up and up and up: look:
all becomes festival!

From Ahead of All Parting:
The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke
Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell

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