from Duino Elegies
All other creatures look into the Open
with their whole eyes. But our eyes,
turned inward, are set all around it like snares,
trapping its way out to freedom.
We know what's out there only from the animal's
face; for we take even the youngest child,
turn him around and force him to look
at the past as a formation, not that openness
so deep within an animal's face. Free from death,
we only see it; the free animal
always has its destruction behind
and god ahead, and when it moves,
it moves toward eternity like running springs.
Not for a single day, no, never have we had
that pure space ahead of us, in which flowers
endlessly open. It is always World
and never Nowhere without No:
that pure, unguarded space we breathe,
always know, and never crave. As a child,
one may lose himself in silence and be
shaken out of it. Or one dies and is it.
Once near death, one can't see death anymore
and stares out, maybe with the wide eyes of animals.
If the other weren't there blocking the view,
lovers come close to it and are amazed...
It opens up behind the other, almost
an oversight... but no one gets past
the other, and the world returns again.
Always facing creation, all we see
is the reflection of the free and open
that we've darkened, or some mute animal
raising its calm eyes and seeing through us,
and through us. This is destiny: to be opposites,
always, and nothing else but opposites.
Ranier Maria Rilke 1922
Translated by A.J. Poulin Jr.
Following Shelley's Mutability, this section of Duino Elegies posits the same idea of our daily experiences--interrupted, fragile, dual. He writes, "it is always World," and that our destiny is "to be opposites, / always, and nothing else but opposites." Animals, he suggests, are more alive, more aware of the world moving around them. For animals, their presence is forward and pure, whereas our selves always get in the way. Always intrude.
He does pose a different kind of question than Shelley. While the latter says that there can be nothing more than purity, Rilke suggests another world behind this one: indeed that this world is a darkened reflection of what is really possible. He writes of "pure, unguarded space we breathe, / always know, and never crave." What is this space? Where can it be found? What would a place look like that is Nowhere, in which there are no "No"s? And so Rilke juxtaposes our present, transient condition with the possibility of something beyond Shelley's mutability, beyond Plato's becoming. He presents, as the title of one collection of Rilke's poems offers, at least a hint of The Possibility of Being.