The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

A Collection of Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

Ninth Duino Elegy

Since this short span might
well be lived as lives the laurel,
deeper in its green than
all other green surrounding,
leaves, edged by wavelets,
smiling like the breeze-
then why, destiny overcome,
must we still be human
and long for further fate?

Not because happiness exists,
that apparent advantage
which barely presages loss.
Not out of curiosity,
nor as an exercise of
such a heart as likewise
in the laurel lies…
But because to be here
means so very much.
Because this fleeting sphere
appears to need us-
in some strange way
concerns us: we…
most fleeting of all.
Once and once only for
each thing-then no more.
For us as well. Once.
Then no more… ever.
But to have been as one,
though but the once,
with this world,
never can be undone.

So we persevere,
attempting to resolve it
and contain it in our grasp,
in overfilled eyes and
within our voiceless heart;
attempting to be it,
as a gift-for whom?
For ourselves, forever!
But what can we abscond with?
We cannot take our insight with us
into the other realm, no matter
how painfully gathered.
Nor anything which happened.
Not one thing; neither suffering
nor the heaviness of our lot.
Not the hard earned lore of love,
nor that which is beyond speaking.
What can these things matter,
later, underneath the stars?
Better these things remain unsaid.
When the rambler returns
from the mountain to the vale,
he carries no esoteric clump
of soil, but some hard won word,
pure and simple: a blossom of
gentian, yellow and blue.
Could it not be that we
are here to say: house,
bridge, cistern, gate,
pitcher, flowering tree,
window-or at most:
monolith… skyscraper?
But to say them in a way
they, themselves, never
knew themselves to be?
Is not the undeclared intent
of Earth, in urging lovers on,
to make creation thrill to
the rhythms of their rapture?
What do lovers care if,
splinter by ancient splinter,
they shred the lintels
of their own front doors?
As well they as the many before
and the multitude to come…
it was ever so.

Here is the home and
the time of the tellable!
Speak out and testify.
This time is the time when
the things we love are dying
and the things we do not love
are rushing to replace them,
shadows cast by shadows:
things willingly restrained
by temporary confines
but ready to spew forth as
outer change of form decrees.
Between its hammer blows
the heart survives-as does,
between the teeth, the tongue:
in spite of all,
the fount of praise.

Exalt no ineffable,
rather a known world
unto the angel.
What do your splendors
signify to him?
You are an ingénue
in the sphere of
feeling he inhabits.
So show him a common thing,
the crafting of which has been
passed down from age to age
until our hands are, themselves,
shaped to the making of it
and our eyes to its beholding.
Speak of objects! His eyes will
grow wide, as did yours at the
twister of the ropes in Rome
or the pot-spinner by the Nile.
Show him creature joy,
without blame, entirely our own;
how grief’s bitter wail
can live as song or
transcend the utmost
eloquence of violin
in service of sorrow.
These things that live upon
the gesture of farewell know
full well when they are praised:
dwindling away, they demand rescue!
And, that, through us-
the most dwindling of all!
They desire that we change them,
whole, within our invisible hearts;
transform them endlessly, Ah!…
into ourselves.
Whomever we are to be.

Earth, is this your will?
An invisible resurrection
within ourselves?
Is it your desire
one day to vanish?
Earth! Invisible!
What do you demand
but transformation?
Beloved Earth, I will!
Further springtimes are
not required to win me-
On my word, a single May
is too heady for my blood.
I have been your
tongue-tied subject
lo, these many years.
Ever you spoke true
and your holiest idea is
Death, our constant friend.

Look, I live! On what?
Neither childhood nor future
grows less… prodigious springs
of being swell within my heart.

Rainer Maria Rilke
translation Robert Hunter

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