Alison Croggon

from the

DUINO ELEGIES of Rainer Maria Rilke

The Fifth Elegy

For Frau Hertha Koenig

But who are they, tell me, these vagrants, a little
more fugitive even than us, in their springtime
so urgently wrung by one who - who pleases
a never contented will? So it wrings them,
bends them, twists them, swings them,
flings them and catches them behind: out of the oil-smooth
air they come down
onto the flimsy carpet worn
by their eternal leaping, this forlorn
carpet lost in the universe.
Stuck on like a plaster, as if there the suburban
sky had wounded the earth.
          And scarcely there,
upright, there and shown: the vast
initial letter of Being ..., so the strongest
men roll again to the joke, that ever
approaching grip, like a tin plate rolled by August the Strong
along a table.

Ach and around this
centre, the rose of looking:
blooms and defoliates. Around this
pestle, the pistil, stricken
by its own blooming pollen again
conceiving illusory fruits of disgust, never
aware of it, - bright with flimsy
surfaces the frail smile-sheen of disgust.

There, the flabby, wrinkled strongman,
old and now only drumming,
decayed in his mighty skin, as if once
two men lived there and one
lay now in the graveyard, and the other outlived him,
deaf and sometimes a little
bewildered in his widowed skin.

But the young man like the son of a hood
and a nun: he's strong and stuffed full
of muscles and simpleness.

Oh you,
who once were given a pain, that was still
small, like a toy, in one of your
slow convalescences....

You, who fall with the shock
only fruits know, upripely
a hundred times daily out of the commonly built
tree of motion (that, quicker than water, in a short
minute bears spring, summer and autumn) -
fall and crash to the grave:
sometimes, in half a pause, a loving face wants
to grow beyond you towards your seldomly
tender mother; but it loses itself in your body
which smoothly consumes it, that shy,
scarcely attempted expression ... And again
the man claps his hand to begin the leap and before
an ache forms distinctly near your perpetually
jogging heart, the brands of footsoles
arrive, its origin, driving before them with pain
the quick and carnal tears into your eyes.
And yet, blindly,
the smile .....

Angel! o take, pluck, the small bloody leaves of healing.
Make a vase to preserve them! Place among them our yet
unopening gladness; inscribe the lovely urn
with flowering, soaring praise:
                                                            Subrizio Saltat.

You then, darling,
you, mutely leapt over
by the most bewitching of joys. Perhaps
your frills are happy for you - ,
or over your young
taut breasts the green metallic silk
feels itself endlessly pampered and wanting nothing.
Always on the precarious scales
of equilibrium you hang
publicly by the shoulders,
a marketfruit of equanimity.

Where, o where is the place, - I carry it in my heart - ,
where still they know nothing, still fall away
from each other, like mounting animals
wrongly coupled; -
where the weights are still heavy,
where from their vainly
whirling sticks the plates
stagger and fall .....

And suddenly in this laborious nowhere, suddenly
the unsayable place, where the pure too-little
inexplicably changes - , leaps
into that empty too-much.
Where the many-numbered calculation
numberlessly resolves.

Plaza o plaza in Paris, infinite theatre,
where the modiste, Madame Lamort,
knots and winds those endless ribbons,
the restless ways of the earth, inventing new
nooses, ruffles, flowers, cockades, artificial fruits - all
falsely coloured - for the cheap
winterhats of destiny.


Angel, there's a place beyond us, and there
on the unsayable carpet, lovers display what now
they can never bring up to knowing - their bold
high figures of heartplay, their
long-since groundless ladders, leaning
on only each other, tremulously, - and know
before the surrounding onlookers, innumerable soundless deaths.
Who then throws their last, ever-hoarded,
ever-concealed, unknown, eternally
valid coins of luck before the finally
truly-smiling pair on the stilled

The Ninth Elegy

Why, when it approaches, the interval of life
surges forward, as laurel, a little darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on every
leaf edge (like a smiling wind) -: why then
must we be human - and, shunning destiny,
long for destiny ...
     Oh, not because there is happiness,
that hurried gain so close to loss.
Not out of curiosity, nor for the heart's use
which was also in the laurel .....
But because being here is so much and all that is here
seems to desire us, these vanishings, that so strangely
approach us. Us, the most vanishing. Each thing once,
only once. Once and no more. And we also
once. Never again. But this
once was real, even if only once:
earthly and real, shining beyond revocation.

And so we compel ourselves and will to achieve it,
will to hold in our simple hands,
in the generous glance and in speechless hearts.
Will to become it. To give to whom? To all the most lovely
to keep forever. Ach, to that other dimension,
woe, what can be taken there? Not that intuitive sight, learnt here
so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
Thus the sorrows. Thus, most of all, the weight of being,
thus love's slow unfolding - thus
the purely unsayable. But later,
under the stars, were debts: they are better unsaid.
Yet the wanderer brings from the mountain edge
not a handful of speechless earth, but a word
hard-won, absolute, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here to say: house,
bridge, spring, gate, jug, fruit-tree, window -
at most: column, tower ... But to say, you understand,
oh to say in such a way that these things never
meant so intensely to be. Isn't the secret cunning
of this reticent earth, when she urges lovers,
simply that each and each rejoice in their feeling?
Threshold: what is it for two
lovers, that they should slightly wear down
the older threshold of that door, they too, after so many before
and in the future ...., lightly.

Here is the sayable time, here its home.
Speak and confess. More than ever
things fall away, our experiences, as
they are driven out and replaced by an imageless act.
Act under crusts that will split whenever
the business inside outgrows them and finds other outlines.
Between the hammer endures
the heart, as the tongue
between the teeth, that yet
nevertheless still praises.

Praise the world to the angel, not the unsayable, to him
you can't brag of magnificent beatitude: in the world
where he so feelingly feels, you are a novice. So show
him the simple, formed from generation to generation,
which lives as a part of ourselves near the hand and in looking.
Tell him the Things. He will stand astonished, as you stood
by the roper in Rome or the potter by the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even complaining grief purely decides on a form,
serves as a thing, or dies in a thing, - and beyond
approaches the bliss of a violin. And these things, which live
by departure, understand that you celebrate them; transitory,
surely they rescue us, the most transient.
They want us to change them wholly in our invisible hearts
into - o endlessly - into ourselves! which finally also we are.

Earth, isn't this what you want: invisibly
rising within us? Isn't your dream
just once to be invisible? Earth! Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent order?
Earth, my love, I will. Oh faith, my yielding to you needs
no more of your springs, one,
ach, only one is already too much for my blood.
Namelessly I've been yours, from the very beginning.
You were always right, and your holiest insight
is intimate death.
See, I live. On what? Neither childhood nor the future
dwindles ..... Supernumerous being
springs in my heart.