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Michael R Burch Nov 2020
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.



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.



Keywords/Tags: Rilke, translation, German, first elegy, Duino, elegies, angels, beauty, terror, terrifying, desire, vision, reality, heart, love, lovers, beloved, rose, saints, spirits, souls, ghosts, voices, torso, Apollo, Rodin, panther, autumn, beggar
Michael R Burch Nov 2020
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
Michael R Burch Sep 2020
Sonnets I-IX

For this collection I have used the original definition of "sonnet" as a "little song" rather than sticking to rigid formulas.



Archaischer Torso Apollos (“Archaic Torso of Apollo”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This is a poem about a major resolution: changing the very nature of one's life. While it is only my personal interpretation of the poem above, I believe Rilke was saying to himself: "I must change my life." Why? Perhaps because he wanted to be a real artist, and when confronted with real, dynamic, living and breathing art of Rodin, he realized that he had to inject similar vitality, energy and muscularity into his poetry. Michelangelo said that he saw the angel in a block of marble, then freed it. Perhaps Rilke had to find the dynamic image of Apollo, the God of Poetry, in his materials, which were paper, ink and his imagination.―Michael R. Burch



Komm, Du (“Come, You”)
by Ranier Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.



Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.



Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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!



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.



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.



A Vain Word
by Michael R. Burch

Oleanders at dawn preen extravagant whorls
as I read in leaves’ Sanskrit brief moments remaining
till sunset implodes, till the moon strands grey pearls
under moss-stubbled oaks, full of whispers, complaining
to the minions of autumn, how swiftly life goes
as I fled before love ... Now, through leaves trodden black,
shivering, I wander as winter’s first throes
of cool listless snow drench my cheeks, back and neck.

I discerned in one season all eternities of grief,
the specter of death sprawled out under the rose,
the last consequence of faith in the flight of one leaf,
the incontinence of age, as life’s bright torrent slows.

O, where are you now?―I was timid, absurd.
I would find comfort again in a vain word.

Published by Chrysanthemum and Tucumcari Literary Review



Chloe
by Michael R. Burch

There were skies onyx at night ... moons by day ...
lakes pale as her eyes ... breathless winds
******* tall elms; ... she would say
that we loved, but I figured we’d sinned.

Soon impatiens too fiery to stay
sagged; the crocus bells drooped, golden-limned;
things of brightness, rinsed out, ran to gray ...
all the light of that world softly dimmed.

Where our feet were inclined, we would stray;
there were paths where dead weeds stood untrimmed,
distant mountains that loomed in our way,
thunder booming down valleys dark-hymned.

What I found, I found lost in her face
while yielding all my virtue to her grace.

Originally published by Romantics Quarterly as “A Dying Fall”



Oasis
by Michael R. Burch

I want tears to form again
in the shriveled glands of these eyes
dried all these long years
by too much heated knowing.

I want tears to course down
these parched cheeks,
to star these cracked lips
like an improbable dew
in the heart of a desert.

I want words to burble up
like happiness, like the thought of love,
like the overwhelming, shimmering thought of you
to a nomad who
has only known drought.




Melting
by Michael R. Burch

Entirely, as spring consumes the snow,
the thought of you consumes me: I am found
in rivulets, dissolved to what I know
of former winters’ passions. Underground,
perhaps one slender icicle remains
of what I was before, in some dark cave―
a stalactite, long calcified, now drains
to sodden pools, whose milky liquid laves
the colder rock, thus washing something clean
that never saw the light, that never knew
the crust could break above, that light could stream:
so luminous, so bright, so beautiful ...
I lie revealed, and so I stand transformed,
and all because you smiled on me, and warmed.



Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

The night is full of stars. Which still exist?
Before time ends, perhaps one day we’ll know.
For now I hold your fingers to my lips
and feel their pulse ... warm, palpable and slow ...

once slow to match this reckless spark in me,
this moon in ceaseless orbit I became,
compelled by wilder gravity to flee
night’s universe of suns, for one pale flame ...

for one pale flame that seemed to signify
the Zodiac of all, the meaning of
love’s wandering flight past Neptune. Now to lie
in dawning recognition is enough ...

enough each night to bask in you, to know
the face of love ... eyes closed ... its afterglow.



All Afterglow
by Michael R. Burch

Something remarkable, perhaps ...
the color of her eyes ... though I forget
the color of her eyes ... perhaps her hair
the way it blew about ... I do not know
just what it was about her that has kept
her thought lodged deep in mine ... unmelted snow
that lasted till July would be less rare,
clasped in some frozen cavern where the wind
sculpts bright grotesqueries, ignoring springs’
and summers’ higher laws ... there thawing slow
and strange by strange degrees, one tick beyond
the freezing point which keeps all things the same
... till what remains is fragile and unlike
the world above, where melted snows and rains
form rivulets that, inundate with sun,
evaporate, and in life’s cyclic stream
remake the world again ... I do not know
that we can be remade―all afterglow.




These Hallowed Halls
by Michael R. Burch

a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age . . .

A final stereo fades into silence
and now there is seldom a murmur
to trouble the slumber of these ancient halls.

I stand by a window where others have watched
the passage of time alone, not untouched,
and I am as they were―unsure, for the days
stretch out ahead, a bewildering maze.

Ah, faithless lover―that I had never touched your breast,
nor felt the stirrings of my heart,
which until that moment had peacefully slept.
For now I have known the exhilaration
of a heart that has leapt every pinnacle of Love,
and the result of all such infatuations―
the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.



Come!
by Michael R. Burch

Will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder,
when I have lain so long in the indifferent earth
that I have no girth?

When my womb has conformed to the chastity
your anemic Messiah envisioned for me,
will you finally be pleased that my *** was thus rendered
unpalatable, disengendered?

And when those strange loathsome organs that troubled you so
have been eaten by worms, will the heavens still glow
with the approval of God that I ended a maid―
thanks to a *****?

And will you come to visit my grave, I wonder,
in the season of lightning, the season of thunder?



To the Post-Modern Muse, Floundering
by Michael R. Burch

The anachronism in your poetry
is that it lacks a future history.
The line that rings, the forward-sounding bell,
tolls death for you, for drowning victims tell
of insignificance, of eerie shoals,
of voices underwater. Lichen grows
to mute the lips of those men paid no heed,
and though you cling by fingertips, and bleed,
there is no lifeline now, for what has slipped
lies far beyond your grasp. Iron fittings, stripped,
have left the hull unsound, bright cargo lost.
The argosy of all your toil is rust.

The anchor that you flung did not take hold
in any harbor where repair is sold.

Originally published by Ironwood



Wonderland
by Michael R. Burch

We stood, kids of the Lamb, to put to test
the beatific anthems of the blessed,
the sentence of the martyr, and the pen’s
sincere religion. Magnified, the lens
shot back absurd reflections of each face―
a carnival-like mirror. In the space
between the silver backing and the glass,
we caught a glimpse of Joan, a frumpy lass
who never brushed her hair or teeth, and failed
to pass on GO, and frequently was jailed
for awe’s beliefs. Like Alice, she grew wee
to fit the door, then couldn’t lift the key.
We failed the test, and so the jury’s hung.
In Oz, “The Witch is Dead” ranks number one.

Keywords/Tags: sonnet, rhyme, meter, iambic pentameter, Rilke, life, death, belief, translation, spirit, fever, mrbson
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
Komm, Du (“Come, You”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.

English translation originally published by Better Than Starbucks

Original text:

Komm du

Komm du, du letzter, den ich anerkenne,
heilloser Schmerz im leiblichen Geweb:
wie ich im Geiste brannte, sieh, ich brenne
in dir; das Holz hat lange widerstrebt,
der Flamme, die du loderst, zuzustimmen,
nun aber nähr’ ich dich und brenn in dir.
Mein hiesig Mildsein wird in deinem Grimmen
ein Grimm der Hölle nicht von hier.
Ganz rein, ganz planlos frei von Zukunft stieg
ich auf des Leidens wirren Scheiterhaufen,
so sicher nirgend Künftiges zu kaufen
um dieses Herz, darin der Vorrat schwieg.
Bin ich es noch, der da unkenntlich brennt?
Erinnerungen reiß ich nicht herein.
O Leben, Leben: Draußensein.
Und ich in Lohe. Niemand der mich kennt.

Keywords/Tags: German, translation, Rilke, last poem, death, fever, burning, pyre, leukemia, pain, consumed, consummation, flesh, spirit, rage, pawn, free, purge, purged, inside, outside, lost, unknown, alienated, alienation



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, 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
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
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
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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!

Original text:

Liebes-Lied

Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß
sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
Ach gerne möcht ich sie bei irgendwas
Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
nicht weiterschwingt, wenn deine Tiefen schwingen.
Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
der aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
O süßes Lied.

Keywords/Tags: German, translation, Rainer Maria Rilke, love, song, music, soul, vibrate, vibration, dark, space, darkness, instrument, bow, strings, hands, voice
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
Archaischer Torso Apollos (“Archaic Torso of Apollo”)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.

Keywords/Tags: German, translation, sonnet, Rainer Maria Rilke, god, Apollo, vision, visions, trunk, abdomen, body, torso, muscle, muscles, muscular, eyes, vision, visions, vitality, will, lamp, light, dynamic, dynamism, *****, groin, stone, phallus, ****, *****, animus, star, change, life



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?



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
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
Herbsttag ("Autumn Day")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.

**

Original text:

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiel den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

**

Originally published by Measure

Keywords/Tags: German, translation, sonnet, Rainer Marie Rilke, autumn, day, summer, sundial, sundials, meadow, meadows, wind, winds, fruit, fruits, sweetness, wine, house, alone, loneliness, alienation, letters, friends, pathways, roads, lanes, leaves
Michael R Burch Feb 2020
Der Panther ("The Panther")
by Rainer Maria Rilke
loose translation/interpretation 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.

Keywords/Tags: Rainer Maria Rilke, German, translation, sonnet, panther, cat, animal, nature, extended metaphor, analogy, allegory, freedom, eyes, vision, iron, bar, bars, cage, prison, world, star, light, starlight, stride, orbit, electron, atom, particle, power, will, paralyzed, impotent, abject, pupils, curtain, curtains, image, shoulder, shoulders, heart, emptiness, loneliness, alienation, death, void
Leonardo J Aug 2017
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

Then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear.

You, send out beyond your recall.

Go the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame

And make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

-A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke   1875 - 1926
Translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
I hope this poem finds you, I read it in my times of need, may you find solace in it's words. I'm here for you.
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