Rainer Maria Rilke:

Second Elegy, from Duino Elegies



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Second Elegy
(translated by David Young)

Every angel is terrible
And still, alas
knowing all that
I serenade you
you almost deadly
birds of the soul.
Where are the days of Tobias
when one of these
brightest of creatures
at the simple front door
disguised a little
for the trip
and not so frightening
(a young man
like the one
who looked curiously
out at him).
If the dangerous archangel
took one step now
down toward us
from behind the stars
our heartbeats
rising like thunder
would kill us.
Who are you?
Creation's spoiled darlings
among the first to be perfect
a chain of mountains
peaks and ridges
red in the morning light
of all creation
the blossoming godhead's pollen
joints of pure light
pockets of essence
ecstasy shields
tumultuous storms
of delightful feelings
then suddenly
gathering the beauty
that streamed away from them
back to their own faces again.

For as we feel
we evaporate
oh we
breathe ourselves out
and away
emberglow to emberglow
we give off a fainter smell.
It's trus that someone
may say to us
"You're in my blood
this room
the spring
is filling with you'...
What good is that?
he can't keep us
we vanish inside him
around him.
And the beautiful
oh who can hold them back?
It's endless:
appearance shines
from their faces
disappearing - like dew
rising from morning grass
we breathe away
what is ours
like steam from a hot dish.
Oh smile where are you going?
Oh lifted glance
receding wave of the heart
woe is me?
it's all of us.
Does the outer space
into which we dissolve
taste of us at all?
Do the angels absorb
only what's theirs
what streamed away from them
or do they sometimes get
as if by mistake
a little of our being too?
Are we mixed into
their features
as slightly
as that vague look
in the faces
of pregnant women?
In thier swirling
return to themselves
they don't notice it.
(How could they notice it?)

Lovers, if they knew how
might say strange things
in the night air.
For it seems
that all things try
to conceal us.
See, the trees are
and the houses we live in
still hold their own,
It's just we
who pass everything by
like air being traded
for air.
And all things agree
to keep quiet about us
maybe half to shame us
and half from a hope
they can't express.

Lovers, you who are
each other's satisfaction
I ask you about us.
You hold each other.
Does that settle it?
You see
it sometimes happens
that my hands
grow conscious
of each other
or that my used face
shelters itself
within them.
That gives me
a slight sensation.
But who'd claim from that
to exist?
who grow
by each other's ecstasy
until drowning
you beg "no more!"
you who under
each other's hands
become more abundant
like the grapes
of great vintages
fading at times
but only because
the other comletely
takes over-
I ask you about us.
I know
that touch
is a blessing for you
because the caress lasts
because what you cover
so tenderly
does not disappear
because you can sense
underneath the touch
some kind of pure
Somehow enternity
almost seems possible
as you embrace.
And yet
when you've got past
the fear in that first
exchange of glances
the mooning at the window
and that first walk
together in the garden
one time:
lovers, are you the same?
When you lift
each other to your lips
mouth to mouth
drink to drink -
oh how oddly
the drinker seems
to withdraw
from the act of drinking.

Weren't you astonished
by the discretion
of human gesture
on Attic grave steles?
Didn't love and parting
sit so lightly
on shoulder
that they seemed
to be made of a substance
different from ours?
Do you recall
how the hands rest
without any pressure
though there is great
strength in the torsos?
Those figures spoke
a language of self-mastery:
we've come to this point
this is us
touching this way
the gods
may push us around
but that is something
for them to decide.
If only we too
could discover an orchard
some pure, contained
human, narrow
strip of land
between river and rock.
For our own heart
outgrows us
just as it did them
and we can't follow it
by gazing at pictures
that soothe it
or at godlike bodies
that restrain it
by their very size.


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