Saturday, December 20, 2014

Excerpts from the The Ninth Elegy


Why, when this short span of being could be spent
like the laurel, a little darker than all the other green,
the edge of each leaf fluted with small waves
(like the wind’s smile) — why, then, do we have to be
human and, avoiding fate, long for fate?
Oh, not because of happiness,
that quick profit of impending loss really exists.
Not out of curiosity, not just to exercise the heart
– that could be in the laurel, too…

But because being here means so much, and because all
that’s here, vanishing so quickly seems to need us
and strangely concerns us. Us, to the first to vanish.

Once each, only once. Once and no more. And us too,
once, even if only once, to have been on earth just once
— that’s irrevocable.

And so we keep on going and try to realize it,
try to hold it in our simple hands, in our overcrowded eyes,
and in our speechless heart.

Try to become it. To give it to whom? We’d rather
keep all of it forever… Ah, but what can we take across
into that other realm? 

Not the power to see what we’ve learned so slowly here,
and nothing that’s happened here.
Nothing. And so, the pain; above all, the hard work of living;
the long experience of love – those purely unspeakable things. 

But later, under the stars, what then?
That’s better left unsaid.

For the wanderer doesn’t bring a handful of that unutterable
earth from the mountainside down to the valley, but only some
word he’s earned, a pure word, the yellow and blue gentian. 

Maybe we’re here only to say: house, bridge, well, gate, jug,
olive tree, window – at most, pillar, tower… but to say them,
remember, oh, to say them in a way that the things themselves
never dreamed of existing so intensely. 

When this silent earth urges lovers on, isn’t it her secret
reason to make everything shudder with ecstasy in them?

Doorsill: how much it means to a pair of lovers
to wear down the sill of their own door a little more,
them too, after so many before them, and before all
those to come…gently.

This is the time for what can be said. Here is its country.
Speak and testify. The things we can live with are falling
away more than ever, replaced by an act without symbol.

Our heart survives between hammers, just as the tongue
between the teeth is still able to praise.

Look, I’m alive. On what? Neither childhood nor the future
grows less…
More being than I’ll ever need springs up in my heart.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

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