The Duino Elegies
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Click here to go to the German text of the First Elegy
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THE FIRST ELEGY (2007)
I 1 Who, if I cried out, would hear me, who among the angels’
I 2 orders? And put the case even that one of them should take
I 3 me suddenly to his heart: I would succumb to his
I 4 stronger existence. For the beautiful is nothing
I 5 but the awesome’s beginning which we barely endure,
I 6 and we admire it so, because it serenely disdains
I 7 to destroy us. Each one of the angels is awesome.
I 8 And thus I preserve myself and swallow the luring call
I 9 of low-toned sobbing. Ah, whom are we able
I 10 to need? Not angels, not humans,
I 11 and the perceptive animals certainly notice
I 12 that we’re not quite reliably at home
I 13 in the interpreted world. There remains for us perhaps
I 14 some tree on a cliff such that each day
I 15 we see it again; there remains for us the street of yesterday
I 16 and the ill-bred loyalty of a habit
I 17 that liked being with us and so it stayed and did not leave.
I 18 Oh, and the night, the night when the wind full of space of the world
I 19 consumes our countenances —, for whom would the night not remain, longed for,
I 20 gently disappointing, that laboriously awaits the
I 21 individual heart. Is the night easier for lovers?
I 22 Ah, they only cover up their fate with each other.
I 23 You don’t know it yet? Cast from your arms the emptiness
I 24 to the spaces we breathe: that perhaps the birds
I 25 may feel the expanded air with more fervent flight.
I 26 Yes, the springtimes did need you. There were some
I 27 stars that expected you’d sense them. There arose
I 28 a wave in the past toward you, or
I 29 when you came by an opened window,
I 30 a violin gave itself up. That all was a task.
I 31 But did you accomplish it? Were you not still
I 32 distracted by anticipation, as if all things were announcing
I 33 a woman for you to love? (Where will you shelter her,
I 34 now that the vast strange thoughts
I 35 are going and coming and often staying the night with you?)
I 36 But if you have longing, then sing the lovers; not nearly
I 37 immortal enough is their celebrated emotion.
I 38 Sing those (you envy them almost) deserted, whom you
I 39 found so much more loving than those who were stilled.
I 40 Begin again and again the never attainable praise;
I 41 bear in mind: the hero conserves himself, even his final
I 42 downfall was only a pretext for him to exist: his last birth.
I 43 But the lovers are retrieved by exhausted Nature
I 44 back into herself, as if there were not the forces a second time to
I 45 perform this. Have you commemorated Gaspara Stampa
I 46 sufficiently that some maiden
I 47 whose beloved eluded her, at the exalted example
I 48 of this loving woman feels: let me become like her?
I 49 Should not finally these oldest sufferings
I 50 become more fruitful for us? Is it not time that we lovingly
I 51 free ourselves from our beloved man and withstand it trembling:
I 52 as the arrow withstands the bowstring, gathered to spring forth
I 53 in order to be more than itself. For there is nowhere to stay.
I 54 Voices, voices. Hear them, my heart, as hitherto only
I 55 saints have heard: such that the gigantic call
I 56 raised them up off the ground: yet they still knelt,
I 57 impossibly, and did not heed it:
I 58 that was their hearing. Not that you could endure
I 59 God’s voice, far from it. But hear the drifting,
I 60 the uninterrupted message that forms itself out of stillness.
I 61 It is murmured to you now by the youthful dead.
I 62 Wherever you entered, did not, in churches
I 63 in Rome and Naples, their destiny serenely address you?
I 64 Or there was an inscription that sublimely entrusted itself to you,
I 65 as not long ago the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa
I 66 What do they want of me? I am to softly dispel
I 67 the appearance of injustice that their spirits’
I 68 untrammeled motion at times slightly hinders.
I 69 Of course it is odd not to inhabit the earth any longer,
I 70 no longer to practice hardly learned customs,
I 71 not to give roses and other expressly promising things
I 72 the interpretation of a human future;
I 73 no longer to be what one was in endlessly cautious hands,
I 74 and to leave off even one’s own name
I 75 like a shattered toy.
I 76 Odd not to continue wishing one’s wishes. Odd
I 77 to see everything that once related
I 78 fluttering so loosely in space. And being dead is arduous
I 79 and full of completion of things undone, such that gradually one
I 80 senses a small amount of eternity. — But the living all make
I 81 the mistake that they differentiate too strictly.
I 82 Angels (it’s said) would often not know if they
I 83 walk among living or dead. The eternal streaming
I 84 rushes through both regions all ages
I 85 along with it and oversounds them in both.
I 86 Finally they need us no longer, those early moved forth,
I 87 one gently unaccustoms oneself to the earthly, as one
I 88 mildly grows forth from the breasts of the mother. But we, who need
I 89 such great mysteries from which by sorrow so often
I 90 blissful advancement springs forth —: could we exist without them?
I 91 Is the legend in vain that once in lamenting for Linos,
I 92 daring first music permeated barren rigidity;
I 93 that for the first time, in the startled space from which an almost godly youth
I 94 suddenly stepped forth forever, the emptiness passed into that
I 95 vibration that enraptures us now and consoles and helps?
Click here to go to the 2007 English Text of the Second Elegy
Click here to go to the German Source Text of the Second Elegy