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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No World

cranachlion

Lucas Cranach the Elder (c. 1472 – 16 October 1553) pen & brown ink


In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris


His  vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot  hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars, and behind  the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the  movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a  center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the  curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly—.  An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is  gone.


Rainer Maria Rilke
(December 1875 – December 1926)
The Panther
tr. Stephen Mitchell

This, Our Hour

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904)

Rose enthroned, known to antiquity,
as a ringed calyx of small complexity;
to us you are the fulsome infinity
of bloom, the inexhaustible entity.

You appear as garment upon rich garment
clothing a body of nothing but light;
yet your single leaf is both estrangement
and renunciation of such an insight.

Across the centuries your sweetest names
have drifted down to us like soft perfume.
Suddenly it hangs in the air like fame.
Even so, we don’t know what to call it, we infer. . .

And, reaching toward it, memory subsumes
all which we have pleaded for in this, our hour.


from the Sonnets to Orpheus,

by Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Cliff Crego)

The Secret Gardener

Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.

Rainer Maria Rilke  (1875 –  1926)