Elegy

Pisanello StorkPisanello (c. 1395 – c. 1455)

 

Elegy

True, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to use no longer customs scarcely acquired,
not to interpret roses, and other things
that promise so much, in terms of human future;
to be no longer all that one used to be
in endlessly anxious hands, and to lay aside
even one’s proper name like a broken toy.
Strange, not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange,
to see all that was once relation so loosely fluttering
hither and thither in space. And it’s hard, being dead,
and full of retrieving before one begins to espy
a trace of eternity.—Yes, but all of the living
make the mistake of drawing to sharp distinctions.
Angels, (they say) are often unable to tell
whether they move among the living or the dead. the eternal
torrent whirls all the ages through either realm
for ever, and sounds above their voices in both.
They’ve finally no more need of us, the early-departed,
one’s gently weaned from terrestrial things as one mildly
outgrows the breasts of a mother. But we, that have need of
such mighty secrets, we, for whom sorrow’s so often
source of blessedest progress, could we exist without them?
Is the story in vain, how once, in the mourning for Linos,
venturing earliest music pierced barren numbness, and how,
in the horrified space an almost deified youth
suddenly quitted for ever, emptiness first
felt the vibration that now charms us and comforts and helps?

Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) 

(translated from German by J.B. Leishman and Stephen Spender)

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Could not have been a more beautiful pairing. Storks, mist mystical of birds, fly thousands of miles during each migration to locate their original rooftop nests, theirs for generations, and their mates in order to lay an egg.

    It is said that they carry the souls of the dead and many references are made to this in poetry and in the Russian film “The Cranes Are Flying”.

    • Oh Lynn. How lovely. Thank you.
      I have to say that this is intuitive—or forgotten; at this age I confuse the two.
      Though there is a poem about a heron that makes me weep with grief, which I can’t use because it is about the soul of a family member recently dead, which is something I can neither bear to invoke right now, nor imagine the time when I must.
      But yes, the Russians—I can imagine that. No one knows better where my soul is sore.


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