BLOGGER TEMPLATES AND TWITTER BACKGROUNDS »

The Poets

December 04, 2012

Rilke's 9th Elegy


Unthinkingly, as I’m leaving for work this morning, I grab a book: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke. What I forgot, until just a few seconds ago, was that he was born on this day (1875).

I’ve known this poet for a long time, and appreciate the sincere depth of his melancholic insight. His works wreak of existential despair, and bare the same oppressive mark of despondency that plagued Confessional poets such as Plath and Sexton and Berryman.

I would warn anyone who would read Rilke’s works to do so in small doses. His poetic darkness isn’t the kind of darkness we see reflected in works such as Bauldelaire's Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil). No … Rilke’s darkness is dangerously close to suicidal reflection and flirts with despair’s menacing onslaught (Baudelaire’s darkness is merely that of audacity).

With that said, I will say that I love this poet. In July I composed a list of my top 20 favorite poets, Rilke was my fifth. The poem below (Duino Elegy #9) I carry in my wallet …



Duino Elegy #9

Why, when this span of life might be fleeted away
as laurel, a little darker than all
the surrounding green, with tiny waves on the border
of every leaf (like the smile of a wind): - oh, why
have to be human, and shunning Destiny,
long for Destiny?...
                      Not because happiness really
exists, that precipitate profit of imminent loss.
Not out of curiosity, not just to practise the heart,
that could still be there in laurel...
But because being here is much, and because all this
that's here, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely
concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. But this
having been once on earth - can it ever be cancelled?

And so we keep pressing on and trying to perform it,
trying to contain it within our simple hands,
in the more and more crowded gaze, in the speechless heart.
Trying to become it. To give it to whom? We'd rather
hold on to it all for ever... But into the other relation,
what, alas! do we carry across? Not the beholding we've here
slowly acquired, and no here occurrence. Not one.
Sufferings, then. Above all, the hardness of life,
the long experience of love; in fact,
purely untellable things. But later,
under the stars, what use? the more deeply untellable stars?
Yet the wanderer too doesn't bring from mountain to valley
a handful of earth; of for all untellable earth, but only
a word he has won, pure, the yellow and blue
gentian. Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: House,
Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Fruit tree, Window, -
possibly: Pillar, Tower?... but for saying, remember,
oh, for such saying as never the things themselves
hoped so intensely to be. Is not the secret purpose
of this sly Earth, in urging a pair of lovers,
just to make everything leap with ecstasy in them?
Threshold: what does it mean
to a pair of lovers, that they should be wearing their own
worn threshold a little, they too, after the many before,
before the many to come,... as a matter of course!

Here is the time for the Tellable, here is its home.
Speak and proclaim. More than ever
things we can live with are falling away, for that
which is oustingly taking their place is an imageless act.
Act under crusts, that will readily split as soon
as the doing within outgrows them and takes a new outline.
Between the hammers lives on
our heart, as between the teeth
the tongue, which, in spite of all,
still continues to praise.

Praise this world to the Angel, not the untellable: you
can't impress him with the splendour you've felt; in the cosmos
where he more feelingly feels you're only a novice. So show him
some simple thing, refashioned by age after age,
till it lives in our hands and eyes as a part of ourselves.
Tell him things. He'll stand more astonished: as you did
beside the roper in Rome or the potter in Egypt.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how guileless and ours;
how even the moaning of grief purely determines on form,
serves as a thing, or dies into a thing, - to escape
to a bliss beyond the fiddle. These things that live on departure
understand when you praise them: fleeting, they look for
rescue through something in us, the most fleeting of all.
Want us to change them entirely, within our invisible hearts
into - oh, endlessly - into ourselves! Whosoever we are.

Earth, is it not just this that you want: to arise
invisibly in us? Is not your dream
to be one day invisible? Earth! invisible!
What is your urgent command, if not transformation?
Earth, you darling, I will! Oh, believe me, you need
no more of your spring-times to win me over: a single one,
ah, one, is already more than my blood can endure.
Beyond all names I am yours, and have been for ages.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is Death, that friendly Death.
Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
are growing less.... Supernumerous existence
wells up in my heart.

2 comments:

Najona3 said...

Happy Birthday to the author of my favorite (non jwm) poem... Der Panther (http://myopicpoets.blogspot.com/2009/06/der-panther-rilke-poem.html)

~ N. Blake

P.J. said...


Today, it's John Milton's birthday.

As of April 9th, 2010