[I’ve been taking some time off 200 this month to re-read and translate Rilke. Here is my attempt at a rendition of Duino Elegy #4. This is work still in progress. Feel free to slag it off as much as you please!]
O trees of life, when do you winter?
We, heedless, all at odds, unlike
the migrant birds, lagging and obsolete,
launch ourselves of a sudden on
the wind and drop into a listless mere.
Blossom & decay alike are known
to us. And somewhere lions still roam
and know no powerlessness, so long
as they are grand and master. We,
though, though single-minded, yet full
feel the cost of other. Hatred is our
Aren’t lovers always
thrown up against the borders of each
other—they who each promised hot
chase, home fires, and the whole wide world?
Sketched for an eye-blink there, a sharp
contrasting ground’s painstakingly prepared
for us to see. Nescient of the contours
of feeling, we know only the force
that shapes it from without.
Who has not sat, anxious before
the curtain of their heart?
It’s raised: a parting scene.
Simple to understand: the garden
is familiar. Slow pan; first comes
the dancer. Not the. Enough!
For, though so light of foot,
he is in character, and turns
into a townsman pottering
about his kitchen once the play
is done. I do not want such half-
stuffed masks; rather a puppet.
She’s not hollow. I’ll take the skin
stretched over a wire mesh, her
face of mere outward appearance.
I’m here! Whether the lights go out,
whether I’m told ‘no more!’, whether
the gray & empty mist wafts from
the stage upon me; whether not
one of my so quiet forebears
will sit down beside me: no
woman, nor the brown-eyed
squinting boy. And yet I stay; there’s
always something to see. I’m right,
am I not, father? Your life was so
embittered by mine, my first murky
infusion of need you tasted
over and over as I grew, and
troubled by the aftertaste of
so far-fetched a future, you tried
my clouded gaze. And, now deceased,
so often in my deepest dreams
there you appear fearful for me
and forgo all the composure
of those imperturbable realms
of after-life the dead enjoy
to claim my sliver of fate,
don’t you? Is it not right, you
who would love me only for
the sweet onset of my loving,
which I always shirked, when, even
in the very throes of love your
empty countenances turned
to an outer space and you
were there no more?…
And, should the mood
take me now, I wait before the puppet-
show, or rather, gaze so absorbed
that in the end a countervailing
angel must take unto the stage
to cancel out my seeing eye
and heavenward sweep the ragged dolls.
Angel and Puppet. There’s a show!
United there is all that we have rent
in twain merely by being around.
Then, from our lifetime’s seasons, comes
the ambit of all change. It’s over,
over and over, the angel plays.
Must not the moribund possess
some inkling of the shallowness
of our performance; how nothing
is itself. O hours of childhood
when, behind the images, the past
was more than passed, and yet no future
lay before us! We grew and sometimes
yearned to grow too soon, half for the sake
of those who had no more than being
grown. And yet, when left alone, we
pleasured in permanence and stood
there in the gap between play and thing,
upon a point from the beginning
ushered in to being as the ground
for sheer occurrences.
a child as is, set in a cluster
of stars, and put the distance
meter in her hands! Who kneads
the gray bread of a childhood death
and bakes it hard or leaves the doughy
fruit stone of it in her rounded mouth?
Killers are simply fathomed. This,
though, death—the whole damned lot of it—
even ere life begin, so softly
to embody yet do no evil:
that beggars all description indeed.