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Archaischer Torso Apollos ("Archaic Torso of Apollo")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering ***** make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star—demanding our belief.
You must change your life.



Herbsttag ("Autumn Day")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Lord, it is time. Let the immense summer go.
Lay your long shadows over the sundials
and over the meadows, let the free winds blow.
Command the late fruits to fatten and shine;
O, grant them another Mediterranean hour!
Urge them to completion, and with power
convey final sweetness to the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, never will build one.
Who's alone now, shall continue alone;
he'll wake, read, write long letters to friends,
and pace the tree-lined pathways up and down,
restlessly, as autumn leaves drift and descend.



Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

His weary vision's so overwhelmed by iron bars,
his exhausted eyes see only blank Oblivion.
His world is not our world. It has no stars.
No light. Ten thousand bars. Nothing beyond.
Lithe, swinging with a rhythmic easy stride,
he circles, his small orbit tightening,
an electron losing power. Paralyzed,
soon regal Will stands stunned, an abject thing.
Only at times the pupils' curtains rise
silently, and then an image enters,
descends through arrested shoulders, plunges, centers
somewhere within his empty heart, and dies.



Komm, Du ("Come, You")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This was Rilke’s last poem, written ten days before his death. He died open-eyed in the arms of his doctor on December 29, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium, of leukemia and its complications. I had a friend who died of leukemia and he was burning up with fever in the end. I believe that is what Rilke was describing here: he was literally burning alive.

Come, you—the last one I acknowledge; return—
incurable pain searing this physical mesh.
As I burned in the spirit once, so now I burn
with you; meanwhile, you consume my flesh.

This wood that long resisted your embrace
now nourishes you; I surrender to your fury
as my gentleness mutates to hellish rage—
uncaged, wild, primal, mindless, outré.

Completely free, no longer future’s pawn,
I clambered up this crazy pyre of pain,
certain I’d never return—my heart’s reserves gone—
to become death’s nameless victim, purged by flame.

Now all I ever was must be denied.
I left my memories of my past elsewhere.
That life—my former life—remains outside.
Inside, I’m lost. Nobody knows me here.



Liebes-Lied ("Love Song")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

How can I withhold my soul so that it doesn’t touch yours?
How can I lift mine gently to higher things, alone?
Oh, I would gladly find something lost in the dark
in that inert space that fails to resonate until you vibrate.
There everything that moves us, draws us together like a bow
enticing two taut strings to sing together with a simultaneous voice.
Whose instrument are we becoming together?
Whose, the hands that excite us?
Ah, sweet song!



Das Lied des Bettlers ("The Beggar's Song")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I live outside your gates,
exposed to the rain, exposed to the sun;
sometimes I’ll cradle my right ear
in my right palm;
then when I speak my voice sounds strange,
alien...

I'm unsure whose voice I’m hearing:
mine or yours.
I implore a trifle;
the poets cry for more.

Sometimes I cover both eyes
and my face disappears;
there it lies heavy in my hands
looking peaceful, instead,
so that no one would ever think
I have no place to lay my head.



This is my translation of the first of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Rilke began the first Duino Elegy in 1912, as a guest of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis, at Duino Castle, near Trieste on the Adriatic Sea.

First Elegy
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Who, if I objected, would hear me among the angelic orders?
For if the least One pressed me intimately against its breast,
I would be lost in its infinite Immensity!
Because beauty, which we mortals can barely endure, is the beginning of terror;
we stand awed when it benignly declines to annihilate us.
Every Angel is terrifying!

And so I restrain myself, swallowing the sound of my pitiful sobbing.
For whom may we turn to, in our desire?
Not to Angels, nor to men, and already the sentient animals are aware
that we are all aliens in this metaphorical existence.
Perhaps some tree still stands on a hillside, which we can study with our ordinary vision.
Perhaps the commonplace street still remains amid man’s fealty to materiality—
the concrete items that never destabilize.
Oh, and of course there is the night: her dark currents caress our faces ...

But whom, then, do we live for?
That longed-for but mildly disappointing presence the lonely heart so desperately desires?
Is life any less difficult for lovers?
They only use each other to avoid their appointed fates!
How can you fail to comprehend?
Fling your arms’ emptiness into this space we occupy and inhale:
may birds fill the expanded air with more intimate flying!

Yes, the springtime still requires you.
Perpetually a star waits for you to recognize it.
A wave recedes toward you from the distant past,
or as you walk beneath an open window, a violin yields virginally to your ears.
All this was preordained. But how can you incorporate it? ...
Weren't you always distracted by expectations, as if every event presaged some new beloved?
(Where can you harbor, when all these enormous strange thoughts surging within you keep
you up all night, restlessly rising and falling?)

When you are full of yearning, sing of loving women, because their passions are finite;
sing of forsaken women (and how you almost envy them)
because they could love you more purely than the ones you left gratified.

Resume the unattainable exaltation; remember: the hero survives;
even his demise was merely a stepping stone toward his latest rebirth.

But spent and exhausted Nature withdraws lovers back into herself,
as if lacking the energy to recreate them.
Have you remembered Gaspara Stampa with sufficient focus—
how any abandoned girl might be inspired by her fierce example
and might ask herself, "How can I be like her?"

Shouldn't these ancient sufferings become fruitful for us?

Shouldn’t we free ourselves from the beloved,
quivering, as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension,
so that in the snap of release it soars beyond itself?
For there is nowhere else where we can remain.

Voices! Voices!

Listen, heart, as levitating saints once listened,
until the elevating call soared them heavenward;
and yet they continued kneeling, unaware, so complete was their concentration.

Not that you could endure God's voice—far from it!

But heed the wind’s voice and the ceaseless formless message of silence:
It murmurs now of the martyred young.

Whenever you attended a church in Naples or Rome,
didn't they come quietly to address you?
And didn’t an exalted inscription impress its mission upon you
recently, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa?
What they require of me is that I gently remove any appearance of injustice—
which at times slightly hinders their souls from advancing.

Of course, it is endlessly strange to no longer inhabit the earth;
to relinquish customs one barely had the time to acquire;
not to see in roses and other tokens a hopeful human future;
no longer to be oneself, cradled in infinitely caring hands;
to set aside even one's own name,
forgotten as easily as a child’s broken plaything.

How strange to no longer desire one's desires!
How strange to see meanings no longer cohere, drifting off into space.
Dying is difficult and requires retrieval before one can gradually decipher eternity.

The living all err in believing the too-sharp distinctions they create themselves.

Angels (men say) don't know whether they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal current merges all ages in its maelstrom
until the voices of both realms are drowned out in its thunderous roar.

In the end, the early-departed no longer need us:
they are weaned gently from earth's agonies and ecstasies,
as children outgrow their mothers’ *******.

But we, who need such immense mysteries,
and for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit's progress—
how can we exist without them?

Is the legend of the lament for Linos meaningless—
the daring first notes of the song pierce our apathy;
then, in the interlude, when the youth, lovely as a god, has suddenly departed forever,
we experience the emptiness of the Void for the first time—
that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and aids us?



Second Elegy
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,
one of the soul’s lethal raptors, well aware of your nature.
As in the days of Tobias, when one of you, obscuring his radiance,
stood at the simple threshold, appearing ordinary rather than appalling
while the curious youth peered through the window.
But if the Archangel emerged today, perilous, from beyond the stars
and took even one step toward us, our hammering hearts
would pound us to death. What are you?

Who are you? Joyous from the beginning;
God’s early successes; Creation’s favorites;
creatures of the heights; pollen of the flowering godhead; cusps of pure light;
stately corridors; rising stairways; exalted thrones;
filling space with your pure essence; crests of rapture;
shields of ecstasy; storms of tumultuous emotions whipped into whirlwinds ...
until one, acting alone, recreates itself by mirroring the beauty of its own countenance.

While we, when deeply moved, evaporate;
we exhale ourselves and fade away, growing faint like smoldering embers;
we drift away like the scent of smoke.
And while someone might say: “You’re in my blood! You occupy this room!
You fill this entire springtime!” ... Still, what becomes of us?
We cannot be contained; we vanish whether inside or out.
And even the loveliest, who can retain them?

Resemblance ceaselessly rises, then is gone, like dew from dawn’s grasses.
And what is ours drifts away, like warmth from a steaming dish.
O smile, where are you bound?
O heavenward glance: are you a receding heat wave, a ripple of the heart?
Alas, but is this not what we are?
Does the cosmos we dissolve into savor us?
Do the angels reabsorb only the radiance they emitted themselves,
or sometimes, perhaps by oversight, traces of our being as well?
Are we included in their features, as obscure as the vague looks on the faces of pregnant women?
Do they notice us at all (how could they) as they reform themselves?

Lovers, if they only knew how, might mutter marvelous curses into the night air.
For it seems everything eludes us.
See: the trees really do exist; our houses stand solid and firm.
And yet we drift away, like weightless sighs.
And all creation conspires to remain silent about us: perhaps from shame, perhaps from inexpressible hope?

Lovers, gratified by each other, I ask to you consider:
You cling to each other, but where is your proof of a connection?
Sometimes my hands become aware of each other
and my time-worn, exhausted face takes shelter in them,
creating a slight sensation.
But because of that, can I still claim to be?

You, the ones who writhe with each other’s passions
until, overwhelmed, someone begs: “No more!...”;
You who swell beneath each other’s hands like autumn grapes;
You, the one who dwindles as the other increases:
I ask you to consider ...
I know you touch each other so ardently because each caress preserves pure continuance,
like the promise of eternity, because the flesh touched does not disappear.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of initial intimacy,
the first lonely vigil at the window, the first walk together through the blossoming garden:
lovers, do you not still remain who you were before?
If you lift your lips to each other’s and unite, potion to potion,
still how strangely each drinker eludes the magic.

Weren’t you confounded by the cautious human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Weren’t love and farewell laid so lightly on shoulders they seemed composed of some ethereal substance unknown to us today?
Consider those hands, how weightlessly they rested, despite the powerful torsos.
The ancient masters knew: “We can only go so far, in touching each other. The gods can exert more force. But that is their affair.”
If only we, too, could discover such a pure, contained Eden for humanity,
our own fruitful strip of soil between river and rock.
For our hearts have always exceeded us, as our ancestors’ did.
And we can no longer trust our own eyes, when gazing at godlike bodies, our hearts find a greater repose.



Keywords/Tags: Rilke, translation, German, elegy, elegies, angels, beauty, terror, terrifying, desire, vision, reality, heart, love, lovers, beloved, rose, saints, spirits, souls, ghosts, voices, torso, Apollo, Rodin, panther, autumn, beggar
What's there in a prayer?
It's just a response to a scare
His being Master to declare
You being a beggar to religare
Asking His credentials you never dare
Everyone per se is a money buyer
Without money no survival
Some buy money
Selling their talent
Some by creative intelligence
Some by manual labour
Some by physical skills
Some by running businesses
Some by running industries
Some by horse trading
Some by cheating
Some by beating
There are myriad ways of buying money
Most efficient being a political leader
Least tiring being a
beggar
Beggars don't accept in kind
They need money in hand
After all they need to buy a bottle
They can't ask for it in the open
For buying money
You have to put some effort as a price
Hard work to begging
Everyone per se is a money buyer
It's just a satire!
An Excelente Balade of Charitie (“An Excellent Ballad of Charity”)
by Thomas Chatterton, age 17
modernization/translation by Michael R. Burch

As wroten bie the goode Prieste
Thomas Rowley 1464

In Virgynë the swelt'ring sun grew keen,
Then hot upon the meadows cast his ray;
The apple ruddied from its pallid green
And the fat pear did bend its leafy spray;
The pied goldfinches sang the livelong day;
'Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And the ground was mantled in fine green cashmere.

The sun was gleaming in the bright mid-day,
Dead-still the air, and likewise the heavens blue,
When from the sea arose, in drear array,
A heap of clouds of sullen sable hue,
Which full and fast unto the woodlands drew,
Hiding at once the sun's fair festive face,
As the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.

Beneath a holly tree, by a pathway's side,
Which did unto Saint Godwin's convent lead,
A hapless pilgrim moaning did abide.
Poor in his sight, ungentle in his ****,
Long brimful of the miseries of need,
Where from the hailstones could the beggar fly?
He had no shelter there, nor any convent nigh.

Look in his gloomy face; his sprite there scan;
How woebegone, how withered, dried-up, dead!
Haste to thy parsonage, accursèd man!
Haste to thy crypt, thy only restful bed.
Cold, as the clay which will grow on thy head,
Is Charity and Love among high elves;
Knights and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.

The gathered storm is ripe; the huge drops fall;
The sunburnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;
The coming aghastness makes the cattle pale;
And the full flocks are driving o'er the plain;
Dashed from the clouds, the waters float again;
The heavens gape; the yellow lightning flies;
And the hot fiery steam in the wide flamepot dies.

Hark! now the thunder's rattling, clamoring sound
Heaves slowly on, and then enswollen clangs,
Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drown'd,
Still on the coward ear of terror hangs;
The winds are up; the lofty elm-tree swings;
Again the lightning―then the thunder pours,
And the full clouds are burst at once in stormy showers.

Spurring his palfrey o'er the watery plain,
The Abbot of Saint Godwin's convent came;
His chapournette was drenchèd with the rain,
And his pinched girdle met with enormous shame;
He cursing backwards gave his hymns the same;
The storm increasing, and he drew aside
With the poor alms-craver, near the holly tree to bide.

His cape was all of Lincoln-cloth so fine,
With a gold button fasten'd near his chin;
His ermine robe was edged with golden twine,
And his high-heeled shoes a Baron's might have been;
Full well it proved he considered cost no sin;
The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight
For the horse-milliner loved rosy ribbons bright.

"An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
"Oh, let me wait within your convent door,
Till the sun shineth high above our head,
And the loud tempest of the air is o'er;
Helpless and old am I, alas!, and poor;
No house, no friend, no money in my purse;
All that I call my own is this―my silver cross.

"Varlet," replied the Abbott, "cease your din;
This is no season alms and prayers to give;
My porter never lets a beggar in;
None touch my ring who in dishonor live."
And now the sun with the blackened clouds did strive,
And shed upon the ground his glaring ray;
The Abbot spurred his steed, and swiftly rode away.

Once more the sky grew black; the thunder rolled;
Fast running o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Not full of pride, not buttoned up in gold;
His cape and jape were gray, and also clean;
A Limitour he was, his order serene;
And from the pathway side he turned to see
Where the poor almer lay beneath the holly tree.

"An alms, Sir Priest!" the drooping pilgrim said,
"For sweet Saint Mary and your order's sake."
The Limitour then loosen'd his purse's thread,
And from it did a groat of silver take;
The needy pilgrim did for happiness shake.
"Here, take this silver, it may ease thy care;
"We are God's stewards all, naught of our own we bear."

"But ah! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,
Scarce any give a rentroll to their Lord.
Here, take my cloak, as thou are bare, I see;
'Tis thine; the Saints will give me my reward."
He left the pilgrim, went his way abroad.
****** and happy Saints, in glory showered,
Let the mighty bend, or the good man be empowered!

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: It is possible that some words used by Chatterton were his own coinages; some of them apparently cannot be found in medieval literature. In a few places I have used similar-sounding words that seem to not overly disturb the meaning of the poem. Keywords/Tags: Chatterton, Romantic, Rowley, fraud, forger, forgery, ballad, charity, alms, almer, varlet, beggar, pilgrim, storm, thunderstorm, tempest, holly, Abbot, Saint, Godwin, priest, Limitour
Athena takes me
sometimes by the hand

and we go levitating
through strange Dreamlands

where Apollo sleeps
in his dark forgetting

and Passion seems
like a wise bloodletting

and all I remember
,upon awaking,

is: to Love sometimes
is like forsaking

one’s Being—to drift
heroically beyond thought,

forsaking the here
for the There and the Not.



O, finally to Burn,
gravity beyond escaping!

To plummet is Bliss
when the blisters breaking

rain down red scabs
on the earth’s mudpuddle ...

Feathers and wax
and the watchers huddle ...

Flocculent sheep,
O, and innocent lambs!,

I will rock me to sleep
on the waves’ iambs.



To Sleep, that is Bliss
in Love’s recursive Dream,

for the Night has Wings
pallid as moonbeams—

they will flit me to Life;
like a huge-eyed Phoenix

fluttering off
to quarry the Sphinx.



Riddlemethis,
riddlemethat,

Rynosseross,
throw out the Welcome Mat.

Quixotic, I seek Love
amid the tarnished

rusted-out steel
when to live is varnish.

To Dream—that’s the thing!
Aye, that Genie I’ll rub,

soak by the candle,
aflame in the tub.



Riddlemethis,
riddlemethat,

Rynosseross,
throw out the Welcome Mat.

Somewhither, somewhither
aglitter and strange,

we must moult off all knowledge
or perish caged.

*

I am reconciled to Life
somewhere beyond thought—

I’ll Live in the There,
I’ll Dream of the Naught.

Methinks it no journey;
to tarry’s a waste,

so fatten the oxen;
make a nice baste.

I’m coming, Fool Tom,
we have Somewhere to Go,

though we injure noone,
ourselves wildaglow.

This odd poem invokes and merges with the anonymous medieval poem “Tom O’Bedlam” and W. H. Auden’s modernist poem “Musee des Beaux Arts,” which in turn refers to Pieter Breughel’s painting “The Fall of Icarus.” In the first stanza Icarus levitates with the help of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, through “strange dreamlands” while Apollo, the sun god, lies sleeping at night. In the second stanza, Apollo predictably wakes up and Icarus plummets to earth, or back to mundane reality, as in Breughel’s painting and Auden’s poem. In the third stanza the grounded Icarus can still fly, but only in flights of imagination through dreams of love. In the fourth and fifth stanzas Icarus joins Tom Rynosseross of the Bedlam poem in embracing madness by deserting “knowledge” and its cages (ivory towers, learning, etc.). In the final stanza Icarus, the former high flier, agrees with Tom that it is “no journey” to wherever they’re going together and also agrees with Tom that they will injure no one on the way, no matter how intensely they glow and radiate.

Keywords/Tags: Icarus, Tom O’Bedlam, bedlam, bedlamite, beggar, mad song, Apollo, welkin, Rynosseros, limerick meter, ballad, hag, goblin, maudlin, chains, whips, dame, maid, afraid, dotage, conquest, cupid, owl, marrow, drake, crow, gypsies, Snap, Pedro, comradoes, punk, cutpurse, panther, fancies, commander, spear, horse, wilderness, knight, tourney, world’s end, journey, Phoenix, Sphinx, Genie, Don Quixote, Quixote, quixotic, cage, prison, glitter, strange, molt, knowledge, oxen, baste, Auden, Musee des Beaux Arts, Breughel, Fall of Icarus
Das Lied des Bettlers (“The Beggar’s Song”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

I live outside your gates,
exposed to the rain, exposed to the sun;
sometimes I’ll cradle my right ear in my right palm;
then when I speak my voice sounds strange, alien ...

I'm unsure whose voice I’m hearing:
mine or yours.
I implore a trifle;
the poets cry for more.

Sometimes I cover both eyes
and my face disappears;
there it lies heavy in my hands
looking peaceful, unafraid,
so that no one would ever think
I have no place to lay my head.

Originally published by Better Than Starbucks (where it was a featured poem, appeared on the first page of the online version, and earned a small honorarium)

Original text:

Das Lied des Bettlers

Ich gehe immer von Tor zu Tor,
verregnet und verbrannt;
auf einmal leg ich mein rechtes Ohr
in meine rechte Hand.
Dann kommt mir meine Stimme vor,
als hätt ich sie nie gekannt.

Dann weiß ich nicht sicher, wer da schreit,
ich oder irgendwer.
Ich schreie um eine Kleinigkeit.
Die Dichter schrein um mehr.

Und endlich mach ich noch mein Gesicht
mit beiden Augen zu;
wie's dann in der Hand liegt mit seinem Gewicht
sieht es fast aus wie Ruh.
Damit sie nicht meinen ich hätte nicht,
wohin ich mein Haupt tu.

Keywords/Tags: German, Rainer Maria Rilke, translation, beggar, song, rain, sun, ear, palm, voice, gate, gates, door, doors, outside, exposure, poets, trifle, pittance, eyes, face, cradle, head, loneliness, alienation, solitude, no place to lay one's head (like Jesus Christ)



Archaischer Torso Apollos ("Archaic Torso of Apollo")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

We cannot know the beheaded god
nor his eyes' forfeited visions. But still
the figure's trunk glows with the strange vitality
of a lamp lit from within, while his composed will
emanates dynamism. Otherwise
the firmly muscled abdomen could not beguile us,
nor the centering ***** make us smile
at the thought of their generative animus.
Otherwise the stone might seem deficient,
unworthy of the broad shoulders, of the groin
projecting procreation's triangular spearhead upwards,
unworthy of the living impulse blazing wildly within
like an inchoate star—demanding our belief.
You must change your life.



Herbsttag ("Autumn Day")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Lord, it is time. Let the immense summer go.
Lay your long shadows over the sundials
and over the meadows, let the free winds blow.
Command the late fruits to fatten and shine;
O, grant them another Mediterranean hour!
Urge them to completion, and with power
convey final sweetness to the heavy wine.
Who has no house now, never will build one.
Who's alone now, shall continue alone;
he'll wake, read, write long letters to friends,
and pace the tree-lined pathways up and down,
restlessly, as autumn leaves drift and descend.



Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

His weary vision's so overwhelmed by iron bars,
his exhausted eyes see only blank Oblivion.
His world is not our world. It has no stars.
No light. Ten thousand bars. Nothing beyond.
Lithe, swinging with a rhythmic easy stride,
he circles, his small orbit tightening,
an electron losing power. Paralyzed,
soon regal Will stands stunned, an abject thing.
Only at times the pupils' curtains rise
silently, and then an image enters,
descends through arrested shoulders, plunges, centers
somewhere within his empty heart, and dies.



Komm, Du ("Come, You")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

This was Rilke’s last poem, written ten days before his death. He died open-eyed in the arms of his doctor on December 29, 1926, in the Valmont Sanatorium, of leukemia and its complications. I had a friend who died of leukemia and he was burning up with fever in the end. I believe that is what Rilke was describing here: he was literally burning alive.

Come, you—the last one I acknowledge; return—
incurable pain searing this physical mesh.
As I burned in the spirit once, so now I burn
with you; meanwhile, you consume my flesh.

This wood that long resisted your embrace
now nourishes you; I surrender to your fury
as my gentleness mutates to hellish rage—
uncaged, wild, primal, mindless, outré.

Completely free, no longer future’s pawn,
I clambered up this crazy pyre of pain,
certain I’d never return—my heart’s reserves gone—
to become death’s nameless victim, purged by flame.

Now all I ever was must be denied.
I left my memories of my past elsewhere.
That life—my former life—remains outside.
Inside, I’m lost. Nobody knows me here.



Liebes-Lied ("Love Song")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

How can I withhold my soul so that it doesn’t touch yours?
How can I lift mine gently to higher things, alone?
Oh, I would gladly find something lost in the dark
in that inert space that fails to resonate until you vibrate.
There everything that moves us, draws us together like a bow
enticing two taut strings to sing together with a simultaneous voice.
Whose instrument are we becoming together?
Whose, the hands that excite us?
Ah, sweet song!



This is my translation of the first of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Rilke began the first Duino Elegy in 1912, as a guest of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis, at Duino Castle, near Trieste on the Adriatic Sea.

First Elegy
by Ranier Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Who, if I objected, would hear me among the angelic orders?
For if the least One pressed me intimately against its breast,
I would be lost in its infinite Immensity!
Because beauty, which we mortals can barely endure, is the beginning of terror;
we stand awed when it benignly declines to annihilate us.
Every Angel is terrifying!

And so I restrain myself, swallowing the sound of my pitiful sobbing.
For whom may we turn to, in our desire?
Not to Angels, nor to men, and already the sentient animals are aware
that we are all aliens in this metaphorical existence.
Perhaps some tree still stands on a hillside, which we can study with our ordinary vision.
Perhaps the commonplace street still remains amid man’s fealty to materiality—
the concrete items that never destabilize.
Oh, and of course there is the night: her dark currents caress our faces ...

But whom, then, do we live for?
That longed-for but mildly disappointing presence the lonely heart so desperately desires?
Is life any less difficult for lovers?
They only use each other to avoid their appointed fates!
How can you fail to comprehend?
Fling your arms’ emptiness into this space we occupy and inhale:
may birds fill the expanded air with more intimate flying!

Yes, the springtime still requires you.
Perpetually a star waits for you to recognize it.
A wave recedes toward you from the distant past,
or as you walk beneath an open window, a violin yields virginally to your ears.
All this was preordained. But how can you incorporate it? ...
Weren't you always distracted by expectations, as if every event presaged some new beloved?
(Where can you harbor, when all these enormous strange thoughts surging within you keep
you up all night, restlessly rising and falling?)

When you are full of yearning, sing of loving women, because their passions are finite;
sing of forsaken women (and how you almost envy them)
because they could love you more purely than the ones you left gratified.

Resume the unattainable exaltation; remember: the hero survives;
even his demise was merely a stepping stone toward his latest rebirth.

But spent and exhausted Nature withdraws lovers back into herself,
as if lacking the energy to recreate them.
Have you remembered Gaspara Stampa with sufficient focus—
how any abandoned girl might be inspired by her fierce example
and might ask herself, "How can I be like her?"

Shouldn't these ancient sufferings become fruitful for us?

Shouldn’t we free ourselves from the beloved,
quivering, as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension,
so that in the snap of release it soars beyond itself?
For there is nowhere else where we can remain.

Voices! Voices!

Listen, heart, as levitating saints once listened,
until the elevating call soared them heavenward;
and yet they continued kneeling, unaware, so complete was their concentration.

Not that you could endure God's voice—far from it!

But heed the wind’s voice and the ceaseless formless message of silence:
It murmurs now of the martyred young.

Whenever you attended a church in Naples or Rome,
didn't they come quietly to address you?
And didn’t an exalted inscription impress its mission upon you
recently, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa?
What they require of me is that I gently remove any appearance of injustice—
which at times slightly hinders their souls from advancing.

Of course, it is endlessly strange to no longer inhabit the earth;
to relinquish customs one barely had the time to acquire;
not to see in roses and other tokens a hopeful human future;
no longer to be oneself, cradled in infinitely caring hands;
to set aside even one's own name,
forgotten as easily as a child’s broken plaything.

How strange to no longer desire one's desires!
How strange to see meanings no longer cohere, drifting off into space.
Dying is difficult and requires retrieval before one can gradually decipher eternity.

The living all err in believing the too-sharp distinctions they create themselves.

Angels (men say) don't know whether they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal current merges all ages in its maelstrom
until the voices of both realms are drowned out in its thunderous roar.

In the end, the early-departed no longer need us:
they are weaned gently from earth's agonies and ecstasies,
as children outgrow their mothers’ *******.

But we, who need such immense mysteries,
and for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit's progress—
how can we exist without them?

Is the legend of the lament for Linos meaningless—
the daring first notes of the song pierce our apathy;
then, in the interlude, when the youth, lovely as a god, has suddenly departed forever,
we experience the emptiness of the Void for the first time—
that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and aids us?



Second Elegy
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,
one of the soul’s lethal raptors, well aware of your nature.
As in the days of Tobias, when one of you, obscuring his radiance,
stood at the simple threshold, appearing ordinary rather than appalling
while the curious youth peered through the window.
But if the Archangel emerged today, perilous, from beyond the stars
and took even one step toward us, our hammering hearts
would pound us to death. What are you?

Who are you? Joyous from the beginning;
God’s early successes; Creation’s favorites;
creatures of the heights; pollen of the flowering godhead; cusps of pure light;
stately corridors; rising stairways; exalted thrones;
filling space with your pure essence; crests of rapture;
shields of ecstasy; storms of tumultuous emotions whipped into whirlwinds ...
until one, acting alone, recreates itself by mirroring the beauty of its own countenance.

While we, when deeply moved, evaporate;
we exhale ourselves and fade away, growing faint like smoldering embers;
we drift away like the scent of smoke.
And while someone might say: “You’re in my blood! You occupy this room!
You fill this entire springtime!” ... Still, what becomes of us?
We cannot be contained; we vanish whether inside or out.
And even the loveliest, who can retain them?

Resemblance ceaselessly rises, then is gone, like dew from dawn’s grasses.
And what is ours drifts away, like warmth from a steaming dish.
O smile, where are you bound?
O heavenward glance: are you a receding heat wave, a ripple of the heart?
Alas, but is this not what we are?
Does the cosmos we dissolve into savor us?
Do the angels reabsorb only the radiance they emitted themselves,
or sometimes, perhaps by oversight, traces of our being as well?
Are we included in their features, as obscure as the vague looks on the faces of pregnant women?
Do they notice us at all (how could they) as they reform themselves?

Lovers, if they only knew how, might mutter marvelous curses into the night air.
For it seems everything eludes us.
See: the trees really do exist; our houses stand solid and firm.
And yet we drift away, like weightless sighs.
And all creation conspires to remain silent about us: perhaps from shame, perhaps from inexpressible hope?

Lovers, gratified by each other, I ask to you consider:
You cling to each other, but where is your proof of a connection?
Sometimes my hands become aware of each other
and my time-worn, exhausted face takes shelter in them,
creating a slight sensation.
But because of that, can I still claim to "be"?

You, the ones who writhe with each other’s passions
until, overwhelmed, someone begs: “No more!...”;
You who swell beneath each other’s hands like autumn grapes;
You, the one who dwindles as the other increases:
I ask you to consider ...
I know you touch each other so ardently because each caress preserves pure continuance,
like the promise of eternity, because the flesh touched does not disappear.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of initial intimacy,
the first lonely vigil at the window, the first walk together through the blossoming garden:
lovers, do you not still remain who you were before?
If you lift your lips to each other’s and unite, potion to potion,
still how strangely each drinker eludes the magic.

Weren’t you confounded by the cautious human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Weren’t love and farewell laid so lightly on shoulders they seemed composed of some ethereal substance unknown to us today?
Consider those hands, how weightlessly they rested, despite the powerful torsos.
The ancient masters knew: “We can only go so far, in touching each other. The gods can exert more force. But that is their affair.”
If only we, too, could discover such a pure, contained Eden for humanity,
our own fruitful strip of soil between river and rock.
For our hearts have always exceeded us, as our ancestors’ did.
And we can no longer trust our own eyes, when gazing at godlike bodies, our hearts find a greater repose.



Keywords/Tags: Rilke, elegy, elegies, angels, beauty, terror, terrifying, desire, vision, reality, heart, love, lovers, beloved, rose, saints, spirits, souls, ghosts, voices, torso, Apollo, Rodin, panther, autumn, beggar
Jenish Feb 12
King and a beggar
Together they went for sleep
King lost his Kingdom
Beggar lost his begging bowl
Until both are sound asleep.
Nina Dec 2019
I was told
Numerous time
To never beg for love
To never give out love so easily
But it's so hard
When all i can do is love others
But never myself
So i kept begging
Begging for someone
To love me back
Even though
I know
I'm so much more than a beggar
In the grey fogs of the cities -
Like mushrooms in the moist,
There grow beggars in the corners,
"Just a penny, sir!" - voiced.


You may find them in any genre;
Old men next to a jar,
Sad blokes without roof nor goods,
Lads playing a guitar.


All they want is only a coin-
Giving them needs morals;
Only God knows, you may be there,
Begging with them for alms.


                       ---


Every time, I bypass by one,
My throat knots in a ball;
I feel an urge to seek coppers,
Always giving them all.


However, once it happened that-
I ran out of changes,
When an old gypsy woman was
Looking for my wages.


She blocked the entry of the shop:
"A coin, may God bless you!";
I excused: Now, I'm short of posh
While trying to get through.


                       ---


She grabbed my arm and hugged my waist:
"My dear, my kids need food!"
Get out of my way, you witch! - thought,
"Witch?! You'll pay for b'ing rude!"


I was shocked: What, she read my mind?!
She spat between my eyes,
Hugged me harder than a python-
While murmuring weird rhymes.


"Pale face - hard heart, now you will pay,
Pale heart - hard face, you'll own!"
I fear'd if there were watching crowds,
But none, I've seen none, none.


                       ---


The witch's gone as if never been,
Leaving my eyes in pain;
Taking my sight away, to say:
Oh my God! Am I sane?!


No doctor could cure my blindness:
"Nah, you must pretend it."
Then, a charlatan informed me:
"You're cursed, I'm sure of it".


Knowing being cursed let me sick;
"You'll need her to be cleansed",
But how to find her in Paris?
Been blinded and uneased.


                       ---


I digged through the darkest quarters,
Meeting gypsy kings and hags;
Though, they were all laughing at me:
"A witch-beldam who begs?!"


My dispair led me to the shop:
Maybe, I'll find her here;
Time has strained my face and my heart,
Begging there year to year.


"All I want is only a coin-
Giving me needs morals;
Only God knows, you may be here,
Begging with me for alms."
Published in Constantine the Bridge Poem Collection.

Written in 2017, Oktober 11, Algeria.
lunademiere Mar 2019
I would rather be poor on Earth and rich in heavens of divine,
like the beggars on the streets,
I hide my spirit in the realms of time,
far away from the evil eye of the world.
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