Yesterday, I lost the sun at 4 p.m. I arose this morning at 6:30 a.m. It is still dark. There is no snow on the ground, but the air hovers at the freezing point. I wish I were in New Mexico still, where the stars are so close. Steve read me a poem yesterday, and I’ve been trying to digest it ever since. There are so many heavy, rich ideas in it: angelic terror, love and death. And then there are sensual images I recognize immediately and viscerally, like this one: “…the night, when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces…” It made me think of exiting my tent in New Mexico, turning my face upward, and beholding the heavens. The translation I’m working with is by A. Poulin, Jr. It is quite long. Take it in doses. Meditate on parts that speak directly to you. Search for your own vibration in the Void.
Rainer Marie Rilke — The First Elegy from Duino Elegies:
And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic
orders? Even if one of them suddenly held me
to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming
presence. Because beauty’s nothing
but the start of terror we can hardly bear,
and we adore it because of the serene scorn
it could kill us with. Every angel’s terrifying.
So I control myself and choke back the lure
of my dark cry. Ah, who can we turn to,
then? Neither angels nor men,
and the animals already know by instinct
we’re not comfortably at home
in our translated world. Maybe what’s left
for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at
day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,
and the perverse affection of a habit
that liked us so much it never let go.
And the night, oh the night when the wind
full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,
gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely
heart — she’d stay on for anyone. Is she easier on lovers?
But they use each other to hide their fate.
You still don’t understand? Throw the emptiness in
your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds
will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.
Yes. Springs needed you. Many stars
waited for you to see them. A wave
that had broken long ago swelled toward you,
or when you walked by an open window, a violin
gave itself. All that was your charge.
But could you live up to it? Weren’t you always
distracted by hope, as if all this promised
you a lover? (Where would you have hidden her,
with all those strange and heavy thoughts
flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)
When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;
their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough.
You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,
could love you so much more than those you loved.
Begin again. Try out your impotent praise again;
think about the hero who lives on: even his fall
was only an excuse for another life, a final birth.
But exhausted nature draws all lovers back
into herself, as if there weren’t the energy
to create them twice. Have you remembered
Gaspara Stampa well enough? From that greater love’s
example, any girl deserted by her lover
can believe: “If only I could be like her!”
Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more
fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed
us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum
becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.
saints have listened: until some colossal
sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,
they listened so intently that, impossible
creatures, they kept on kneeling. Not that you could
endure the voice of God! But listen to the breathing,
the endless news growing out of silence,
rustling toward you from those who died young.
Whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,
didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?
Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,
like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.
What do they want from me? That I gently wipe away
the look of suffered injustice sometimes
hindering the pure motion of spirits a little.
It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth
anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,
not giving the meaning of a human future
to roses and other things that promise so much;
no longer being what you used to be
in hands that were always anxious,
throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.
It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore. Strange
to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering
in space. And it’s hard being dead and straining
to make up for it until you can begin to feel
a trace of eternity. But the living are wrong
to make distinctions that are too absolute.
Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether
they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal torrent hurls all ages through
both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.
At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;
we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently
as we outgrow our mother’s breast. But we, who need
such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress
so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?
Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament for Linos,
the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,
and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned
by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt
that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?