The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

Sixth Duino Elegy

Fig tree, I’ve long found it significant
that you omit, almost entirely, to flower
but, early in the season press, untrumpeted,
your purest secret into resolute fruition.
Through your arched boughs the sap is driven
downward, then forced up, fountainlike,
where, hardly waking, it bursts from sleep
into the bliss of sweetest achievement.
Look-how Jupiter becomes the swan.

…..But, sadly, we hang on.
Our glory is all in the flowering.
We press into our final tardy fruit
already swindled.
Few are moved so boldly by the
impetus to action that they stand
already glowing in fulness of heart
when, like a soft night breeze,
the temptation to flower brushes their
youthful lips and strokes their eyes.
That is the attitude of heroes-
and of those elected for an early grave,
veins trained differently by Death the Gardener.
They dash ahead of their own smiles like
the galloping team of conquering Pharoah
in the gently sculpted friezes at Karnak.

Wondrously akin are the
young dead and the hero.
Survival is the mission of neither.
His is the ascent unending
through amorphous constellations
of everlasting personal peril.
Few could overtake him there.
But Fate, to us so mute,
toward him bends inspired,
singing the hero on to meet
her roaring storm in
his cataclysmic world.
I hear none like him.
Suddenly the river of wind
rushes through me, bearing
his voice of muted thunder.

Then do I despair of my longing for
lost youth with future hope intact,
leaning on arms unmolded yet
to read of Samson: how his mother
gave birth at first to nothing,
then-to everything.

O Mother, was he not, unborn, a hero?
Did his peremptory decisions
not begin while still within you?
Thousands broiled in your womb,
wishing to become him.
But observe: he chose one thing,
disdained another and by the
power of choice prevailed.
If ever he broke mighty columns,
it was in quitting the world of your body
to confront the more constricted world
where he continued to act and choose.
O mothers of heroes-
O fonts of storm whipped rivers!
Gorges where tearful virgins have
plunged from the heart’s sheer cliff,
as sacrifice to the son!
Whenever the hero stormed
through the way stations of love,
each heart that beat for him
pushed him on beyond that heart,
where, turning away, he stood,
at smile’s end-transfigured.

. . . Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Hunter

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