The Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translation by Robert Hunter
This translation approximates the original rhythm & rhyme of The Sonnets to Orpheus.. It is, so far as I know, the only translation to attempt this. The complex rhyme schemes are an integral part of the work, which, content aside, is a virtuoso study in the possibilities of sonnet form.
Written concurrently with later parts of the Duino Elegies, the "small russet sails" of the sonnets (Rilke's description) compliment the dark rigging of the greater work.
Duino Elegies are freeform unrhymed verse; The Sonnets to Orpheus: bright, discrete songs, ranging in tone from transcendent to cantankerous. A handful are of drastically inferior quality to the others, as though spuriously added by a surreptitious hand. I believe the explanation is that they had profound sentimental value to Rilke, written at a time of grief at the death of a young friend, the dancer Vera Knoop, and are included on her account.
I acknowledge indebtedness to many previous translators of The Sonnets for guidance in nuance and a variety of perceptions concerning relative weights among the images.
Tree arising! O pure ascendance!
Orpheus Sings! Towering tree within the ear!
Everywhere stillness, yet in this abeyance:
seeds of change and new beginnings near.
Creatures of silence emerged from the clear
unfettered forest, from dens, from lairs.
Not from shyness, this silence of theirs;
nor from any hint of fear,
simply from listening. Brutal shriek and roar
dwindled in their hearts. Where stood a mere
hut to house the passions of the ear,
constructed of longing darkly drear,
haphazardly wrought from front to rear,
you built them a temple at listening's core.
Something akin to a maiden strayed
from this marriage of song and string,
glowing radiant through veils of spring;
inside my ear a bed she laid.
And there she slept. Her dream was my domain:
the trees which enchanted me; vistas vast
and nearly touchable; meadows of a vernal cast
and every wondrous joy my heart could claim.
She dreamed the world. Singing God, how made
you that primordial repose so sound she never
felt a need to waken? Upon arising she fell straight to dream.
Where is her death? O, will you yet discover her theme
before your song is eclipsed forever? --
Abandoning me, where does she go?--something akin to a maid-
Gods are able. Tell how a man, though,
could possibly thread the lyre's narrow modes?
Vacillating at the heart's dark crossroads,
he beholds no temple of Apollo.
Song, you teach us, is beyond achievable desire,
it is rather the sheer reality of immanent being:
simplicity itself for deity,
but how may we partake? When will you inspire
our being, bestowing earth and stars by turn?
This has no relation, youth, to your enamored care:
mouth forced wide by the thrust of your voice - learn
to set aside impassioned music. It will end.
True singing breaths a different air.
Air without object. A gust within God. A wind.
O tender ones, now and again
stand in the waves of a foreign air
which parts upon your cheeks and then,
trembling, rejoins behind you there.
O blessed ones, whole and unbroken,
first throb of the heart's fanfare,
comprising bow, arrow and target chosen:
smiling sorrow is your eternal share.
Fear not suffering's gravity.
Return to earth its weighty share;
heavy are its mountains, heavy the sea.
The tree you seeded in childhood's place
grows now too heavy for you to bear.
But not the breeze...never the empty space...
Orpheus requires no tomb.
The god himself shines from the flower;
in his mortal stead behold the rose in bloom,
resurrected in one thing and another beyond our
power to name. In the short and long,
suffice it that though he comes and goes:
'tis Orpheus singing wherever there's song.
Give thanks should he sometime outlive the rose.
Dreading his own disappearance,
he vanishes that you may understand.
The instant his word transcends coherence,
he is flown beyond your interference.
The lyre's strings do not tie his hand.
In overstepping lies his true obedience.
Is he of our world alone? No.
Both realms his broader scope salute.
He can best twine the shoots of the willow
who has dwelt a time in its root.
Bread nor milk on the table leave
to entice the dead while you lie abed.
Let Orpheus, magus, their spirits weave
into all that may be seen, instead;
beneath his eyelids gently dreaming,
with spell of rue and earthsmoke streaming,
vision detailed as reason blazes.
Nothing disturbs these forms eternal,
haste they from graves or rooms external,
as flask, clasp and ring he raises.
Exalting he came, fine ore smelted from mute
stone, anointed to the office of praise;
mortal heart poised to press our fruit
into deathless wine of endless days.
He does not choke on the dust
stirred up by transcendent metaphor:
all becomes arbor; grapes of succulent rust
matured in the sun of his Southern shore.
Though mold o'ergrow the imperial crypts,
true accolade never fails his lips;
nor yet, though heaven's disfavor prevail.
He is the herald of constancy,
bearing the fruit of vibrancy
through the doors of the dead in a shining grail.
Lament, sprite of the pool of tears,
may only on paths of glory walk.
Keenly upon our tumult she peers
and marks they splash clear on the selfsame rock
where the arch and tabernacle rise. -
Above her still shoulders intuition glisters:
a sense that she, the one who cries,
is youngest of the heart's three sisters.
Joy has certainty; Longing: her confessions.
Lament alone still learns. Through night's successions,
she tallies, with girlish hands, our ancient vices.
Suddenly, hesitant and awkward,
she chooses a constellation among our voices
and flings it, free of sorrow, heavenward.
Who, in realms of shade,
the lyre dares to raise,
receives in ominous trade
endless powers of praise.
Who, with the dead, on poppy dine,
need nevermore fear:
the true sweetness in his rhyme
shall never disappear.
When the lagoon's mirror pane
reflects all unclear,
recall the sign.
Only in the dual domain
can voices appear
Thou from whom my sentiment rarely strays,
ancient sarcophagi, I salute you,
conduit where exultant water of Roman days,
like a wanderer's melody, yet flows through,
or yonder tombs, open as the eyes
of a happy shepherd glad to rise
- wherein pale dead nettle and silence lies -
out of which flutter forth charmed butterflies.
All that is wrested from doubt's dark den
I salute: the voices which once more flower
after knowing silence's ways.
Do we know, or do we not, friend?
Both sides are framed by the reluctant hour
and chiseled on the faces of men.
Look into the sky. Is there no constellation Rider?
Within us dwells, oddly engrained, a pride of place
concerning earth. Observe a second figure,
who rides, directs and reins its trace.
Are not we, in our essential sinew,
required to tack, track, trot and stay?
Yet, by one deft touch, permitted to view,
in twin cognition, new horizons along the way?
But are they twain? Do not both denote
the nature of their common trail,
though one eat bread, the other oat?
Should the starry union prove otherwise
let us yet conspire, in joy, to hail
the apparent oneness. Let it suffice.
Hail the force sublime
uniting we who live in signs.
The clock's steps only mime
the ticking of a truer time.
Devoid of actual perception,
antenna to antenna we posit,
by main force of intuition,
what emptiness transmits. . .
Music of forces. O pure tension!
Isn't your obscure transmission
immune to mundane converse?
Though the planter toil and care
he cannot reach down to where
the seed becomes summer. Earth confers.
Fat apple, banana, pear
gooseberry. . . .all speak immanence
of death and life to the child there;
I sense it on his countenance
as he partakes. This comes from afar.
Does something you cannot relate
slowly traverse your own palate;
replacing speech with fiats from the jam jar?
Dare to declare a pear.
This sweetness, thick at first,
then to clarity reversed
awakens from the slumbering nectar
luminous twin significance
of sun and earth; presence and joy - immense!
We are caught up in flower, fruit and vine.
They speak to us more than the cant of the year.
From the darkness, bright manifestations rear,
shining, it may be, with a jealous shine
of the buried dead who fortify the soil.
Of their hand in this, what can we know?
It has ever been their task to make earth grow
more virile through their marrow's passive toil.
Do they do this freely? we ask. . .
Or does anger swell in these fruitful shoots,
begrudging us, the masters of their task?
Or are they, who slumber deep beneath the roots,
our masters, yielding an overflow none misses
of their hybrid of mute power and kisses?
Hold it...that's tasty. . .already out the door.
. . .a touch of music. . .a beating. . .a hum -;
You warm girls, you quiet girls - come
dance the taste of the fruits you savor!
Dance the orange. Who can forget it?. . .
nearly self-drowned in its own sweetness,
yet it overcomes. You have possessed it;
become its own luscious completeness.
Dance the orange. Fling the sultry climate
far from you, permitting it to shine
in its own native breezes. Glowingly reveal
bouquet upon bouquet. Your own concordat
create with the pure, recalcitrant rind
and the ebullient juice beneath the peel!
You, my friend, are lonely because. . .
humankind, to word and gesture prone,
gradually make the world our own -
we, perhaps, of all: most dangerous and full of flaws.
What gesture can indicate a smell?
Yet of the threatening powers benighted
you know many - you discern the dead;
cringe in terror at their magic spell.
See here, together we two must bear
these fragments and parts as though they were entire.
Helping you will be hard. You must never aspire
to plant me in your heart. I'd outgrow you, once inside.
But, guiding my own masters hand, I will declare:
There. This is Esau in his hide.
Beneath all: the Eldest, whorling
root of arising's course,
beyond any beholding,
secret at the source.
Hunter's horns choraling,
aged men's discourse,
brothers out quarreling,
women like guitars...
Branch to branch in the gyre,
not one of them free. . .
As one! climb higher. . . o higher. . .
In course of time they break.
The last, atop their wake,
arcs into a lyre.
Do you hear the future
adrone and athrob, Sir?
Extolling its power,
comes a messenger.
No ear but is half broken
by the clattering,
the machine has spoken.
and requests our flattering.
Look at the machine:
how it turns and destroys.
vengefully twisting us like toys.
Since we bequeath it might,
then let it serve us right,
humble and serene.
Quick though the earth itself churns,
changing like cloud formations,
each fulfilled thing returns
to ancient foundations.
Beyond changing and passing,
freer and higher,
your prelude is alone lasting:
god with the lyre.
Grief is beyond comprehension.
True love has never been learned.
Nor do we know by what agency
we are to death interned.
Only the song over the land
yields blessing and commemoration.
Tell, Master, who taught all creatures their ear,
what could I offer you might receive?
Long ago, an evening I remember,
in April Russian twilight -- a steed. . .
From the outskirts of the village came he,
a hobble upon his foreleg lashed,
to spend one sweet night on the grassy lea.
The waves of his white mane dashed
on his neck beating as his spirit rushed,
in spite of the shackle's impediment.
How the Spring of his horse blood gushed!
He felt the distance without restraint
and O how he sang and received -- your cycle
of mythos, in him completed.
His image: my testament.
Spring has come once more; earth like the double
of a girl who has memorized
many, many verses... For her trouble
and long study she earns the prize.
Her teacher was strict. We liked the white
in the whiskers of the old man.
Can she tell us the name of the greensward light,
now, the meaning of this blue? She can! She can!
Lucky Earth at liberty, play tag with youths
who long to catch you. Will any succeed?
Only those most happily delighting.
Of what her teacher professed, manifold truths,
what is imprinted within the roots, the seeds,
the long, demanding stems: she sings, she sings!
Time's drivers, that we are.
Its repetitious pace
is all but effaced
in what endures forever.
All which is hurrying
soon will reach conclusion.
Only the everlasting
Youth, do not waste your clout
on the rigors of flight,
leave trials of speed forsook.
All these things at last play out:
darkness and brilliant light,
flower and book.
O not till wing take flight
unconsciously to fly
in the self-sufficient sky,
will stillness itself cast light
to profile in bright relief
the foremost ultimate tool,
darling of the winds in chief,
so slender, curved and cool --
not till undivided aim
replace adolescent pride
in unbridled technology
will, heady from so much gain,
one who matches distance's stride
become lone flight's own apogee.
Shall we reject our ancient friendship with the great
undemanding gods, if only because the steelplate
we fire to high temper simply does not relate?
Shall we seek to find them on some map of the state?
These powerful allies who bear away our dead,
at no juncture mesh with any of our gears.
We've far removed our spas and luncheons through the years,
losing sight of their tardy messengers, long since outsped.
Lonelier now, dependent on each other completely,
though in truth we know one another not,
we no longer construct paths which meander sweetly,
but pave them straight ahead. Our former fires burn hot
only in boilers now, driving pistons of increasing strength
though we, like swimmers, tax ourselves at length.
You whom I loved like an unnamed flower,
plucked too soon, I will tell them of you as I
seek your shifting image and again remember,
beautiful companion of the irrepressible cry.
I see first the dancer, checked by lingering fate,
as though her youth were being cast in bronze;
mourning and listening till in celestial response
music poured through her heart's transmuted gate.
Illness drew nearer. Already in the shadow's clasp,
her darkening blood, unconvinced, yet broke the grasp
to pulse forth once more the familiar spring fervor.
From dark and relapse, it often surged rebounding,
mortal and bright, till at last, with a fearful pounding,
it flowed through the hopelessly open door.
But you, divine one singing on the brink of destruction
while legions of forsaken maenads tore at your flesh;
you vanquished their shrieks with harmony, oh bright one,
while from utter devastation rebounded your song afresh.
However they wrestled and raged, seeing you persevere,
they could destroy neither your head nor your lyre;
for each sharp stone they launched at your heart in ire,
turned soft, touching you, acquiring the power to hear.
Whipped on by vengeance, they dismembered you at last,
but your melody resounded intact, in the lion, the boulder,
the bird and the tree. In each of these your song holds fast.
O mournful god forlorn! You inexhaustible trace!
Only because rancor broke and strewed you through nature
have we learned to hear, become the mouth of creation's face.
Breath, you poem beyond all seeing!
Pure and ceaseless demi-urge
in counterpoise with our own being.
Interchange in which I rhythmically emerge.
Lone wave, whose gradual sea
am I; You, the most austere
of all conceivable seas, -
How many spaces in this vast horizon
have I contained within? Many a wind
seems like my own son.
Do you know me, you breeze, so full of spots
hitherto mine? You once smooth rind,
swell and leaf of my spoken thoughts.
As when a handy scrap is chosen to contain
a master's swift authentic strokes and swirls,
mirrors may often capture and retain
the unique and sacred smiles of girls
as they try on morning all alone, -
or aided by compliant illumination,
while later, of their true face's exhalation,
a mere reflection is shown.
So much have gazing eyes poured into
the soot charred embers of slowly dying blazes:
glimpses of lost life forever outworn.
O, the earth, who can construe
her losses? Only one who yet praises
can sing the heart which into the whole is born.
Mirrors: to this day, no expertise can explain
the key to what you truly are;
filling the interstices of time's plane
with mere holes as from a colander.
Spendthrifts of the vacant foyer --
wide as woods beneath twilight stars. ..
And the chandelier bounds like a sixteen-pointer
through your impenetrability.
Sometimes you are filled with canvases.
Some even seem absorbed into your depths --
other styles you timidly dismiss.
But the loveliest remains, until appears
Narcissus to press her chaste lips,
fully liberated and crystal clear.
O this is the beast who does not exist.
They didn't know that, and in any case
--with its stance, its arched neck and easy grace,
the light of its limpid gaze --they could not resist
but loved it though, indeed, it was not. Yet since
they always gave it room, the pure beast persisted.
And in that loving space, clear and unfenced,
reared it's head freely and hardly needed
to exist. They fed it not with grain nor chaff
but fortified and nourished it solely with
the notion that it might yet come to pass,
so that, at length, it grew a single shaft
upon it's brow and to a virgin came
and dwelled in her and in her silvered glass.
]Flower muscle of the anemone
slowly opening in meadow dawn
until into her core the polyphony
of clamorous Heaven's light is drawn,
into the motionless blossom star's tight
womb of endless receiving, once in awhile
so overpowered by fulness that twilight's
call to rest finds you barely able
to contract your wide sprung flower --
petals for night's resuscitation:
you, of countless worlds, the will and power!
We, the violent, outlive your farewell.
But when, in which latent incarnation,
shall we at last become receptacles?
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.
Flowers, upon that garden table often laden
edge to edge, drooping and gently violated;
in the end, to those arranging hands of maidens
(both of present and time past) are you related
as you await the water which once more redeems
you from impending death - even as you are lifted
one more time between the streaming beams
of compassionate fingers, well gifted
to do more good than you might guess, fresh ones,
reconnoitered in a vase where the act of cooling
slowly from girlish heat seems like confessions,
whispered among you, of sins, dismal and consuming,
committed at the point of plucking, a refueling
of kinship with your confederates in blooming.
You few, playmates of childhood long gone,
among the scattered gardens of the suburbs
how we discovered one another, so shyly fond,
speaking to one another without words
like the lamb with the talking scroll.
Joy belonged to no one. It would just appear.
But how joy faded in all the striding people
and in the anxious, lengthy year.
Exotic coaches rolled round about us;
houses glowered, vivid but phantasmal--and none
ever knew us. Nothing seemed very real at all.
Nothing. Only the balls. Their glorious arches.
Not even the children...but sometimes one,
O, a perishing one, would step beneath the falling ball.
(In memorium Egon von Rilke )
Judges: you congratulate yourselves upon disavowing torture;
point out that iron chains no longer gird the convict's throat.
No heart beats lighter --none, because some tender posture
of spasmodic mercy lies within your interest to promote.
The scaffold will relinquish what it has been granted
through the ages, much like children exchange
last year's broken toys. Into hearts that range
pure and lofty, as through open gates, the unsupplanted
god of true mercy enters in different fashion;
strong and gloriously, as befits divinity.
More than a wind for the great ships of condescension.
Not less than the subtle secret perception
that wins us within, silently,
like a quietly playing child of an infinite union.
The machine threatens all we have gained, so long as it dare
become the tyrant of spirit, rather than its servant.
Rather than let us linger to savor a master's deft care,
it rigidly cuts the stone for structures ever more adamant.
Omnipresent, there is nowhere we might escape, just once,
as, self-lubricating, it rules itself within its silent factory.
It is life itself --convinced of its own omniscience;
with equal resolve able to order, build or destroy.
But for us, existence is still enchanted; in any number
of places, it is still the origin. A playing
of pure forces untouched except by one who kneels in wonder.
Words still serenely approach the unsayable. . .
And music, ever new, out of the most trembling
stones, builds her home in those regions least usable.
Many quietly acceptable methods of death have come to pass
since onward conquering man first laid claim to the hunter's
I prefer, above the trap or net, you ribbons of canvas
at one time dangled deep into the caverns of Karst.
Carefully were you lowered, like a banner bright
celebrating peace. But then a boy gave you a good hard shake
-and the darkness hurled a tumble of pale doves into the light. . .
There is a certain rightness of which even that partakes.
Far from espying eyes draw any breath of sympathy,
not only from the eyes of the hunter who, with alacrity
performs his timely rite.
Killing is one form of our wandering melancholy...
For the bright spirit of serenity
whatever happens is right.
Aspire to transform. O enraptured be by the fire wherein
something elusive flames with brazen tidings of change;
that generative spirit, master of earth and all therein,
holds nothing dearer than the pivot point of the evolving image.
The mantle of conservatism is of itself a shroud;
who could be truly secure beneath those folds of gray?
Beware, from afar the hardest warns the hard aloud.
An absent hammer swings high : --wehe. . .
Who pours forth like a spring is by knowledge herself known.
She leads him enthralled through the benign creation
which often ends in beginning and in beginnings ends.
Every astonishing space of joy through which they roam
is child or grandchild of separation. Daphne in mutation,
changing to laurel, requires your transformation into wind.
Advance beyond all farewells as though they were,
like this departing winter, already accomplished.
For among winters looms one so endlessly winter
that hearts embracing winter, alone, endure unvanquished.
In Eurydice live ever dead -- rise more joyfully,
singing into the pure accord with boundless praising.
Here, within decline's rapidly fading country,
be as a ringing glass that shatters when it rings.
Be --at the same time knowing the realm of non-being,
that infinite ground of your own intimate oscillating,
in order, once, to fully contain the eternal fount.
To all the shopworn, musty, mute and glum
debris of nature's stockpile, the numberless sum,
joyfully add yourself and cancel the count.
Behold the flowers, to the earthly so very true,
lent destiny, by us, from the edge of destiny--
but who knows for certain! If wilting should cause them rue,
it may be given us to be their melancholy.
All things wish to hover. But we go heavy burdened,
lowering ourselves on all, exulting in weightiness;
O, we are wearisome teachers for the myriad
things who dwell in endless childishness.
If someone were to take them into intimate sleep;
slumber rapt with things -- O how light he'd recover,
different to a different day, out of that mutual deep.
Or maybe he would remain; and they would bloom
and praise him,
the convert who is now like one of them, another
easygoing sister or brother in the meadow wind.
O fountain's mouth, provider, mouth that speaks
one thing purely with continuous grace --
you, the water's endlessly flowing face,
mask of marble. And from the distant peaks
the aqueducts descend. From far away,
o'er graves flowing, from sloping Appenines
do they carry the utterings you say,
run down your blackened chin in streams,
into the basin which collects the flow.
This is the ear layed sleeping low,
marble ear where all you say is conducted.
Ear of the earth. To herself conversing.
Slip a pitcher between this discoursing,
it will seem to her you've interrupted.
Ever and anon torn open by us
is the place of the god, locus of healing.
Desiring to understand, we focus,
but he is unfixated in serene being.
Even the pure, consecrated offering
enters his sphere in no other fashion
than as a polar apogee, he wielding
the free end, static in opposition.
Only the dead drink
out of the proper well
at the god's silent signal.
To us, only the water's loud gurgle
is given. And the lamb begs for its bell
out of quieter instinct.
Where, in what blessed garden of eternally flowing waters,
on what trees, in the cups of which tenderly leafless flowers,
ripen those exotic fruits of consolation ?
Those delicious rarities, of which you may discover one,
in your meadow's trampled poverty. Often, in wonder,
you stand marveling at the size of the fruit,
over its soundness and unblemished exterior,
perfectly amazed that some careless bird or jealous worm
away beneath the root
has not deprived you of it. Are there indeed such trees,
where angels slide, tended mysteriously in slow degrees
by obscure hands, able, though not ours, to sate our hungers?
Could we ever, the lot of us but shadows and shades,
through any act of ours (too soon ripe- too soon decayed,)
disturb the calm composure of those blissful summers?
Dancer: O transporter of all fading away
in very transition: indeed you deliver it here.
Whirl and closure, tree of motion asway
fully retaining the hard swung year.
Didn't it bloom so your earlier motion might swarm
throughout, into sudden stillness flowering?
And on high, wasn't it sun, wasn't it summer - the warmth,
that unmeasurable inner warmth you could bring?
It bore fruit as well, it bore, your tree of rapture.
Aren't these its tranquil fruits? The pitcher shot through
with ripe shades, and the vase, more slow to mature?
And in the shapes: wasn't the sketch enduring,
which your eyebrow's dark stroke drew
quickly on the wall of its own turning?
Gold abides inside a pandering bank vault somewhere,
on intimate terms with thousands, yet yonder beggar,
that blind man, is a lost place to a ten pfennig copper,
or like some cupboard's undusted corner.
Money feels right at home in all the shops,
dressed to the nines in silk, fur and carnations.
He, the silent one, stands in the respiratory stops
of all that breathing money as it sleeps or awakens.
O how does it close when night falls, that always open hand?
Fate will roll it out again tomorrow, and each day
keep it extended: bright, miserable, endlessly destructible.
If only someone capable of seeing would at last understand
and, marveling, praise its persistence. Only the singer can say
what is to the god alone audible.
Between the stars, how far; and yet vastly further:
the lessons of this place and day.
Someone, let us say a child. . .and beside him, another --
O how incredibly faraway.
Fate measures us with the rod of being, perhaps,
so that it appears uncanny to us; Let us see:
between a maid and a man may range such wide gaps,
that, while shunning him, she fans his memory.
All is distant-- nowhere does the circle close.
On the table gaily set, behold, within the dish,
the fishes' queer countenance.
Fish are mute. . . so one thought. Who knows?
Is there not a place where the language of the fish,
in their absence, is at last in common parlance?
Sing, my heart, of unknown gardens poured in glass,
transparent and unattainable.
Fountains and roses of Ispahan or of Shiraz,
Praise and joyfully sing of them, incomparable.
Show, my heart, that you could never truly miss them, since
it is you, alone, for whom their figs have ripened.
That in your revery, envisioning powers heightened,
you are kin to each flowering branch the sweet breezes evince.
Avoid the error of thinking something dear was shed
in the transaction of your grave decision to be!
You are part of the very weave, o silken thread.
Whatever the motif constricting you internally
(if only for a moment in the painful life you lead)
intuit the full meaning of the glowing tapestry.
O despite fate: a glorious overflowing
of our worldly being, gushing through park trees--
or formed into sculpted men with stone backs bearing
tall fluted columns supporting balconies!
O the bright brass bell supernal
which against tedium wields its daily truncheon.
Or the Karnak column, outliving nearly eternal
temples, that singular column.
Today these same abundances transit at full dash;
snatched in haste in a horizontal flash
of yellow day into bedazzled night's magnification.
But even this frenzy vanishes without trace.
The flyers and their trajectories through space;
none of it, perhaps, is in vain. If only through reflection.
Summon me to the one among your hours
that most stubbornly resists you:
close as a begging dog it lowers,
but then and anon is forever turned to,
obscured, just as you thought it finally caught.
What's withheld like this is your truest property.
We're free. Dismissed from the exact spot
we thought assured us the most security.
With anxiety we scrabble for a hold,
we, too young sometimes for what is old,
too old for what has never been.
Where we truly stand is where we praise.
For we are the bough and the axe to raze
and sweet danger's ripening sheen.
O the fresh delight of new spaded soil!
Those who first dared found little aid.
Nevertheless, near happy bays, were cities made;
even so, were pitchers filled with water and oil.
Gods: with broad strokes we give them definition
though testy fate wrecks our work again and again.
But they are the immortals. Let us listen
and hear them out, who will hear us in the end.
We, a single generation through the aeons: parents
growing ever more full of the child we are to bear,
who will shake and overwhelm us, our heir apparent.
We, the endlessly daring, what vast time is ours!
And only silent death really knows our true share
and what he always reaps from these borrowed hours.
Listen, already you can hear the first rakes
laboring; again the human rhythm
as the hard earth's spring stillness wakes.
Never banal, it seems, what is to come.
What has come to you, so often recurring,
comes again like something new.
You never seized it in the act of preparing
for its advent. Instead, it captured you.
In the oak trees' wintry leaves
evening discerns a brown to be.
Signaling breezes give and receive.
Black are the bushes. Piles of dung
lie blacker yet upon the fields we see.
Passing hours grow ever more young.
How we are stirred by the call of a bird. . .
Or any full hearted crying.
But even children, out of doors playing,
will falsify their cries to be heard.
They cry probabilities, pile-driving,
deep into the world space's very seams,
wedges of shrieking (where bird-cries wing
unbroken as men go into dreams).
Alas, where are we? Ever more free
like dragon kites cut loose, cunningly
shot halfway to the brink of gaiety,
wind tattered. --Harmonize the criers,
melodious god! Awaken them resoundingly,
a current to carry the heads and the lyres.
Does it truly exist: time the destroyer?
When topples the tower atop the peaceful height?
This heart, belonging to the gods forever,
when will the demi-urge rend it with dire might?
Are we, as fate would have us believe,
quite so entirely, timidly brittle?
Is childhood's deep promise beyond reprieve,
at the very root one day layed still?
The specter of transience,
through receptive innocence
passes like tenuous vapor.
As what we are, the driving force,
we count as a matter of course
in the divine endeavor.
O come and go. You, nearly a child still,
fill, for the flicker of an eye, the dance figure:
a pure constellation where we fleetingly excel
the primitive juxtapositions of nature.
For she attained full power of hearing
only when Orpheus performed his song.
You were the one enthralled of old, appearing
somewhat surprised if a tree took too long
deciding whether to enter the listening ear.
You still knew from whence the lyre
drew forth its sound-- the unheard-of center.
For the sake of this you turned those lovely figures,
that towards the perfect celebration might aspire
the footsteps and the face of one held dear.
Silent friend of many distances, feel
how space dilates with each breath of yours.
Among the rafters of dark belfries peal
your own sweet tones. Your predators
will grow strong upon such fare.
Know transformation in its varied sign.
Which experience produces most despair?
If drinking offend, transform yourself to wine.
Be, in this immensity of night,
the magic force at your sense's crossroad;
the purpose of their mysterious plan.
And though you fade from earthly sight,
declare to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water say: I am.