The Duino Elegies
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German Text of the Elegy
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THE FIRST ELEGY (1977)
1 Who, if I cried out, would hear me, among the angels’
2 orders? And put the case even that one of them should take
3 me suddenly to his heart: I would succumb to his
4 stronger existence. For the beautiful is nothing
5 but the awesome’s beginning which we just barely endure,
6 and we admire it so, because it serenely disdains
7 to destroy us. Each one of the angels is awesome.
8 And thus I preserve myself and swallow the luring call
9 of darksome sobbing. Ah, whom are we able
10 to need? Not angels, not humans,
11 and the perceptive animals readily notice
12 that we’re not so reliably at home
13 in the interpreted world. There remains for us perhaps
14 some tree on a cliff such that each day
15 we see it again; there remains for us the street of yesterday
16 and the distorted loyalty of a habit
17 that liked being with us and so it stayed and did not leave.
18 Oh, and the night, the night when the wind full of space of the world
19 tugs at our countenances —, for whom would the night not remain, longed for,
20 gently disappointing, that laboriously awaits the
21 individual heart. Is the night easier for lovers?
22 Ah, they only cover up their fate with each other.
23 You don’t know it yet? Cast from your arms the emptiness
24 to the spaces we breathe: that perhaps the birds
25 may feel the expanded air with more fervent flight.
26 Yes, the springtimes did need you. There were some stars that expected
27 you’d sense them. There arose
28 a wave in the past toward you, or
29 when you passed by an opened window,
30 a violin surrendered itself. That all was a task.
31 But did you accomplish it? Were you not still
32 distracted by anticipation, as if all things were announcing
33 a woman for you to love? (Where will you shelter her,
34 now that the vast strange thoughts
35 are going and coming and often staying the night with you?)
36 But if you have longing, then sing the lovers; not nearly
37 immortal enough is their famous emotion.
38 Sing those (you envy them almost) deserted, whom you
39 found so much more loving than those who were stilled.
40 Begin again and again the never attainable praise;
41 bear in mind: the hero conserves himself, even his final
42 downfall was only a pretext for him to exist: his last birth.
43 But the lovers are retrieved by exhausted Nature
44 back into herself, as if there were not the forces a second time to
45 perform this. Have you commemorated Gaspara Stampa
46 sufficiently that some maiden
47 whose beloved eluded her, at the exalted example
48 of this loving woman feels: let me become like her?
49 Should not finally these oldest sufferings
50 become more fruitful for us? Is it not time that we lovingly
51 free ourselves from our beloved and withstand it trembling:
52 as the arrow withstands the bowstring, gathered to spring forth
53 in order to be more than itself. For there is nowhere to stay.
54 Voices, voices. Hear them, my heart, as hitherto only
55 saints have heard: such that the gigantic call
56 raised them up off the ground: yet they still knelt,
57 impossibly, and did not heed it:
58 that was their hearing. Not that you could endure
59 God’s voice, far from it. But hear the drifting,
60 the uninterrupted message that forms itself out of stillness.
61 It is murmured to you now by the youthful dead.
62 Wherever you entered, did not in churches
63 in Rome and Naples their destiny serenely address you?
64 Or there was an inscription that sublimely entrusted itself to you,
65 as not long ago the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa
66 What do they want of me? I am to softly dispel
67 the semblance of injustice that sometimes slightly
68 hinders their spirits’ pure motion.
69 To be sure, it is odd not to inhabit the earth any longer,
70 no longer to practice hardly learned customs,
71 not to give roses and other expressly promising things
72 the interpretation of a human future;
73 no longer to be what one was in endlessly fearful hands,
74 and to leave off even one’s own name
75 like a shattered toy.
76 Odd not to continue wishing one’s wishes. Odd
77 to see everything that once was related
78 fluttering so loosely in space. And being dead is arduous
79 and full of redoings, such that gradually one
80 senses a trace of eternity. — But the living all make
81 the mistake that they differentiate too strictly.
82 Angels (it’s said) would often not know if they
83 walk among living or dead. The eternal streaming
84 rushes through both regions of all ages
85 along with it and oversounds them in both.
86 Finally they need us no longer, those early departed
87 one gently unaccustoms oneself to the earthly, as one
88 mildly outgrows the breasts of the mother. But we, who need
89 such great mysteries from which by sorrow so often
90 blissful advancement springs forth —: could we exist without them?
91 Is the legend in vain that once in lamenting for Linos,
92 daring first music permeated barren rigidity;
93 that for the first time, in the startled space from which an almost godly youth
94 suddenly stepped forth forever, the emptiness passed into that
95 vibration that enraptures us now and consoles and helps?