from Duino Elegies: The First Elegy
Yes, Springs needed you. Many stars
waited for you to see them. A wave
that had broken long ago swelled toward you,
or when you walked by an open window, a violin
gave itself. All that was your charge.
But could you live up to it? Weren't you always
distracted by hope, as if all this promised
a lover? (Where would you have hidden her,
with all those strange and heavy thoughts
flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)
When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;
their famous passions still aren't immortal enough.
You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,
could love you so much more than those you loved.
Begin again. Try out your impotent praise again;
think about the hero who lives on: even his fall
was only an excuse for another life, a final birth.
But exhausted nature draws all lovers back
into herself, as if there weren't the energy
to create them twice. Have you remembered
Gaspara Stampa well enough? From that greater love's
example, any girl deserted by her lover
can believe: "If only I could be like her!"
Shouldn't our ancient suffering be more
fruitful by now? Isn't it time our loving freed
us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum,
becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.
Ranier Maria Rilke 1922
This is the next section of the poem posted on this blog in December; rarely do I place the same poet's work so close together, and never have I discussed the same poem. But I must have read at least forty poems of ee cummings and William Carlos Williams this evening (something to note: at times, the two are nearly indistinguishable. At others, their voices dance off in different directions--cummings towards love, towards ideas, and Williams towards things and images, of course). Unable to find a poem that loves the world without falling over from its own passion, I left the library, left cummings and williams, and came home to Rilke! Sitting there on my desk, the passage opened itself to me, opened its great and subtle affection for the world, its understanding of the place of human longing.
Rilke is interesting in that he is immensely complex and yet, when you read him, it is as if he talks straight to you. People understand innately what he says, but he is difficult to discuss (and do justice to) in writing. Ah--this is a moment when I am frustrated at writing's ability to discuss poetry. I forget that this bind crops up-- poems say what they want to say the best, and the job of the reader is to talk about it. To bring that text to life, into life. I suppose, then, the professional reader's job might be to offer direction to other's thoughts. Hm--of course we invented literary criticism because we want an excuse to write about the things we like to think and talk about. Well then, my suggestion is: read this poem again. Begin again---look how my language just gave over to Rilke! Indeed, he seems to be speaking to the issue above, writing "Begin again, try out your impotent praise again." Whether praise of poetry or of Spring, words so often fail. The praise is impotent, unable to push us forward or onward.
If any of you want to talk about this in person (if you're at UPS, talk to me in person), that would be the way to interact with this poem--words are failing--goodnight!