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 humanm, and, avoiding fate,
long for fate?
Oh, not because 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 becaues all
that's here, vanishing so quickly, seems to need us
and strangely concerns us. Us, the first to vanish.
Once each, only once. Once and no more. And us too,
once. Never again. But to have been
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 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,
to say them in such a way that the things themselves
never dreamed of existing so intensely. When this silent
earth uyrges lovers on, isn't it her secret reason
to make everything shudder with ecstasy in them?
Doorsill: how much ir means to a pair of lovers
to wear down the sill of their own
dorr 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.
An act under crusts that will easily rip
as soon as the energy inside outgrows
them and seeks new limits.
Our heart survives between
hammers, just as the tongue between
the teeth is still able to praise.
Praise the world, to the angel, not what can't be talked about.
You can't impress him with your grand emotions. In the cosmos
where he so intensely feels, you're just a novice. So show
him some simple thing shaped for generation after generation
until it lives in our hands and in our eyes, and it's ours;
Tell him about things. he;ll stand amazed, just as you did
beside the ropemaker in Rome or the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours;
how even grief's lament purely determines its own shape,
serves as a thing, or dies in a thing--and escapes
in ecstasy beyond the violin. And these thingsm, whose lives
are lived in leaving--they understand when you praise them.
Perishing, they turn to us, the most perishable, for help.
They want us to change them completely in our invisible hearts,
oh--forever--into us! Whoever we finally may be.
Earth, isn't this what you want: to resurrect
in us invisible? Isn't it your dream
to be invisible one day? Earth! Invisible!
What's your urgent charge, if not transformation?
Earth, my love, I will. Oh, believe me, you don't
need your Springs to win me anymore--one,
oh, one's already too much for my blood.
I'm silently determined to be yours, from now on.
You were always right, and your most scared
idea is death, that intimate friend.
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.
Ranier Maria Rilke
I do Rilke a lot--these are probably my favorite poems of all.