Wooing no more, no more shall wooing,
voice grown beyond it, be the nature
of your cry-though the cry be pure,
as of a bird when lifted by the
spiraling season-nearly forgetting
that it is a simple fretful creature,
not a solitary heart tossed into
the brightness of intimate skies.
Like him would you woo, so purely
that, all unseen, you might awaken
a silent lover, arousing in her,
ever so slowly, an answering call,
kindled by your own bright passion
into a complementary flame.
O and springtime would take hold
and carry it everywhere until no
cavern nor crannie could fail to
echo your annunciation: the soft
first question of the frail flute
magnified in the limpid stillness
of a daytime of entire agreement.
Then up the ladder of your song,
rise to the temple of the future
discovered, on a time, in dream.
Then the trill-a geyser gathering
its spent streams back into itself,
in recirculation of playful promise
and still, ahead of you, the summer.
Not only each and every sun
of summer at a single rising;
not only the way they steal
dawn’s gold into high noon…
Not only the days themselves
which roll so grandly
over constellated trees
be they never so gentle
in amongst the blossoms;
not only the ardent zeal of
each of these unfolded forces,
nor only the footpaths
through twilight meadows,
not these alone, nor the
clarity of breath in the wake
of an afternoon thunderstorm;
not only the approach of sleep
with its omens in tow…
but these NIGHTS!
Heights of the summer’s nights,
stars above and stars
of Earth besides:
O to be dead at last and
at long last eternally to
know the stars…
the stars! How, how, how
can they ever be forgotten?
I called my love.
She came, but not alone.
From out of unsecured graves
other girls arose and gathered round.
How could my call, once sounded,
be limited to one?
These unfinished ones
seek again the Earth.
O children, one thing
fully learned here is
fit harvest for a lifetime.
Destiny is only the
dense residue of childhood.
Often, if truth be known,
you caught up with the beloved,
short of breath from joy of the race,
panting for further chase
into entire freedom.
To be here at all is a glory.
You knew it, maidens,
even those of you seemingly
passed over, sinking into
the city’s meanest streets,
festering alleys choked with
trash and stinking of excretions.
Each of you had her hour,
or if not an hour,
an instant, at least,
between two moments when
life burst into flower.
Every blessed petal.
Your veins throbbed with it.
But we so soon forget what
our laughing neighbor neither
applauds nor envies.
We desire that they be admired,
but even the most visible
of joys cannot be seen
Nowhere, beloved, does any
world exist save that within.
Life spends itself in
the act of transformation,
dissolving, bit by bit,
the world as it appeared.
Where stood a solid house
now stands a mental construct,
entirely conceptual, as though
its rafters supported a
rooftop in the very brain.
The spirit of our time has raised
storehouses of infernal powers,
edifices shapeless as the primal force
he wrenches from creation.
Temples are unknown to him.
It is we who try in secret
to perpetuate such wasteful
luxuriance of the heart.
Yes, if one thing survives
before which we genuflected,
which we served or worshiped,
it passes intact into the invisible.
Many, perceiving it no more,
fail to seize the chance to
build it up anew, with greater
pillars and more commanding statues
than in days of yore-within!
Each sluggish revolution of the world
leaves its dispossessed-heirs neither
of things past nor of those impending.
The immediate future is distant for man.
This should not confuse but confirm
the needfulness of preserving those forms
we still can recognize.
This once stood amongst us,
here in the province of
Fate the Great Annihilator,
in the very midst,
knowing not whither nor whence,
firm in its existence,
calling down stars from
their secure heavens
to stand in witness.
Angel, behold the vision.
I will show it to you-Voila!
Gather it into your eternal sight
where it may at last endure,
upright and redeemed:
pillars, monoliths, the Sphinx,
the gray cathedral’s striving thrust
o’er some strange and fading city.
Is it not miraculous?
Attend well, O angel;
This is what we are,
O Great One.
Be thou herald of these wonders!
My own scant breath will not
suffice to celebrate it fully.
We have not, after all, failed
to employ our assigned spaces,
these generous spaces of our own.
(How fearfully vast they must be-
aeons of our feelings
have not overfilled them.)
Was not a single tower great?
O angel, indeed it was,
even by your measure.
The cathedral at Chartres was great-
music rose higher still,
quite surpassing us.
Even a girl in love, at night,
alone by her window…
didn’t she reach to your knee?
Do not think I woo thee, angel!
Should I do so, you would not be moved,
so full of conflict is my cry.
Against such utter counter force
you cannot prevail. My call is like
an open hand thrust out to seize,
to defend, to warn off-while you,
unattainable, receed far beyond its grasp.
. . . Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Hunter