Rainer Maria Rilke
Elegy X - Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke
That some day, emerging at last from the terrifying vision
I may burst into jubilant praise to assenting angels!
That of the clear-struck keys of the heart not one may fail
to sound because of a loose, doubtful or broken string!
That my streaming countenance may make me more resplendent
That my humble weeping change into blossoms.
Oh, how will you then, nights of suffering, be remembered
with love. Why did I not kneel more fervently, disconsolate
sisters, more bendingly kneel to receive you, more loosely
surrender myself to your loosened hair? We, squanderers of
gazing beyond them to judge the end of their duration.
They are only our winter's foliage, our sombre evergreen,
one of the seasons of our interior year, -not only season,
but place, settlement, camp, soil and dwelling.
How woeful, strange, are the alleys of the City of Pain,
where in the false silence created from too much noise,
a thing cast out from the mold of emptiness
swaggers that gilded hubbub, the bursting memorial.
Oh, how completely an angel would stamp out their market
of solace, bounded by the church, bought ready for use:
as clean, disappointing and closed as a post office on Sunday.
Farther out, though, there are always the rippling edges
of the fair. Seasaws of freedom! High-divers and jugglers of zeal!
And the shooting-gallery's targets of bedizened happiness:
targets tumbling in tinny contortions whenever some better
marksman happens to hit one. From cheers to chance he goes
staggering on, as booths that can please the most curious tastes
are drumming and bawling. For adults ony there is something
special to see: how money multiplies. Anatomy made amusing!
Money's organs on view! Nothing concealed! Instructive,
and guaranteed to increase fertility!...
Oh, and then outside,
behind the farthest billboard, pasted with posters for 'Deathless,'
that bitter beer tasting quite sweet to drinkers,
if they chew fresh diversions with it..
Behind the billboard, just in back of it, life is real.
Children play, and lovers hold each other, -aside,
earnestly, in the trampled grass, and dogs respond to nature.
The youth continues onward; perhaps he is in love with
a young Lament....he follows her into the meadows.
She says: the way is long. We live out there....
Where? And the youth
follows. He is touched by her gentle bearing. The shoulders,
the neck, -perhaps she is of noble ancestry?
Yet he leaves her, turns around, looks back and waves...
What could come of it? She is a Lament.
Only those who died young, in their first state of
timeless serenity, while they are being weaned,
follow her lovingly. She waits for girls
and befriends them. Gently she shows them
what she is wearing. Pearls of grief
and the fine-spun veils of patience.-
With youths she walks in silence.
But there, where they live, in the valley,
an elderly Lament responds to the youth as he asks:-
We were once, she says, a great race, we Laments.
Our fathers worked the mines up there in the mountains;
sometimes among men you will find a piece of polished
primeval pain, or a petrified slag from an ancient volcano.
Yes, that came from there. Once we were rich.-
And she leads him gently through the vast landscape
of Lamentation, shows him the columns of temples,
the ruins of strongholds from which long ago
the princes of Lament wisely governed the country.
Shows him the tall trees of tears,
the fields of flowering sadness,
(the living know them only as softest foliage);
show him the beasts of mourning, grazing-
and sometimes a startled bird, flying straight through
their field of vision, far away traces the image of its
At evening she leads him to the graves of elders
of the race of Lamentation, the sybils and prophets.
With night approaching, they move more softly,
and soon there looms ahead, bathed in moonlight,
the sepulcher, that all-guarding ancient stone,
Twin-brother to that on the Nile, the lofty Sphinx-:
the silent chamber's countenance.
They marvel at the regal head that has, forever silent,
laid the features of manking upon the scales of the stars.
His sight, still blinded by his early death,
cannot grasp it. But the Sphinx's gaze
frightens an owl from the rim of the double-crown.
The bird, with slow down-strokes, brushes
along the cheek, that with the roundest curve,
and faintly inscribes on the new death-born hearing,
as though on the double page of an opened book,
the indescribable outline.
And higher up, the stars. New ones. Stars
of the land of pain. Slowly she names them:
"There, look: the Rider ,the Staff,and that
crowded constellation they call the the Garland of Fruit.
Then farther up toward the Pole:
Cradle, Way, the Burning Book, Doll, Window.
And in the Southern sky, pure as lines
on the palm of a blessed hand, the clear sparkling M,
standing for Mothers....."
Yet the dead youth must go on alone.
In silence the elder Lament brings him
as far as the gorge where it shimmers in the moonlight:
The Foutainhead of Joy. With reverance she names it,
saying: "In the world of mankind it is a life-bearing stream."
They reach the foothills of the mountain,
and there she embraces him, weeping.
Alone, he climbs the mountains of primeval pain.
Not even his footsteps ring from this soundless fate.
But were these timeless dead to awaken an image for us,
see, they might be pointing to th catkins, hanging
from the leafless hazels, or else they might mean
the rain that falls upon the dark earth in early Spring.
And we, who always think
of happiness as rising feel the emotion
that almost overwhelms us
whenever a happy thing falls.
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