The Duino Elegies

Original by Ranier Maria Rilke - Translated by Lore Confino


That, one day, I might go forth from bitterest insight,
singing out in exultation and praise to responding Angels!
That none of heart's clear-struck hammers
fail on strings weakened, loosened or torn!
May my face bathed in tears give me more radiance,
may tears unseen secretly flower.
Oh, how I would cherish you then, nights of anguish!
On bended knees, I should have enfolded you closer,
inconsolable Sisters; should have lost myself
in greater abandon in your free-flowing hair.
We squander our sorrows, dismiss them too soon,
hoping, one day, their sad permanence must end.
But they are our winter foliage, our darker mind-green,
one of the seasons of our inward year. Not only season:
Sorrow is place, settlement, site, base and dwelling.

Alas, how strange, the streets of the City of Mourning,
noisily deafened into false quietness, where the mould
of emptiness boasts its cast of gilded clamour,
the hollow monument, splitting wide open with vanity.
Oh, how an Angel might trample to dust their market,
trading false solace, beside the ready-made church,
neat, shut and abandoned, like the Post on a Sunday.

And beyond, all the while, the fringes of fairground
ripple in the hustle and bustle of Fair. Swings of Freedom!
Tumblers and Jugglers of eager zeal!
Shooting booths of fortune's bait, tarted up and tangible,
dangling from target and rattling on tin, when a marksman
aims true. He staggers on, falling from good luck
into chance luck, enticed by booths, courting the curious
with ever new pleasures, drumming and bawling to enter.


Here is special attraction: For Adults Only!
The mating of Money. The Whole Act.
Clear Anatomic Description.
More than mere entertainment.
See it multiply. Explicit, instructive...
                                           ...but just beyond,
behind the last hoarding, covered with posters for "Deathless",
that bitterest beer, which tastes sweet, as long as
there are new attractions to chew, as you drink...
here things are real!
Children at play, and lovers, on their own,
hold one another, absorbed, on sparse-growing grass,
and dogs follow their nature.
The youth is drawn further, love-sick, perhaps, for a girl,
a young Grief ...He follows her into meadows.
She says: it is far. We live beyond there. .. Where?
And the youth follows her further. He is touched by her bearing.
Her shoulders. Her neck she of noble descent?
Yet, he leaves her, waves and turns back.
What use. She is a Grief.


Only the young Dead, in the first sages of timeless serenity,
still being weaned, follow her lovingly.
And she waits for maidens to befriend, shows gently
what is hers: Pearls of Sorrow, and the delicate
Veils of Enduring. Young men she accompanies silently.
But there, in the valley, where they dwell, an older Grief
answers the youth, as he questions:
Once, long ago, she explains, we Griefs were a mighty race.
Our forefathers worked the mines in the Great Mountains.
                                                Among men,
you can still find polished fragments of original Griefstone,
or from ancient volcanoes, slag of petrified anger.
Yes, it came from there. Once we were rich.
Gently, she leads the youth further, through the wide-spread
lands of the Griefs; shows him columns of Temples,
shows him the ruins of castles, where once Grief Princes
ruled wisely. Shows him the lofty trees-of-tears; fields,
covered in blossoming wistfulness (on earth we know it only
as tender, young foliage...); shows him Sorrow's beasts grazing,
and sometimes, a startled bird flies level across vision
into the distance, trailing an imprint of its lonely call.
At eventide, she leads him to the tombs of the ancients –
the Sybils and Seers of the people of Grief.
With night descending, they move more quietly.
Suddenly, before their eyes, high, like a moon arisen...
the mighty Sphinx: exalted, mysterious,
seeming brother to that by the Nile, guardian monument
                                                of all things.
They marvel at head so regal, which silently places, forever,
the face of Mankind in the scales of the stars.


He cannot grasp meaning, his eyes still blurred
in the newness of death. But her fixed gaze
scares an owl from the rim of the double crown.
Slowly, its wing brushes along the fullest
curve of cheek, softly tracing into Death's new hearing –
as on page doubly unfolded-the indescribable contour.


And higher yet, clusters of stars. New stars: the stars
of the Land of the Griefs. She names them, one by one.
See, here is the Rider, the Staff, and that crowded
Constellation we call Fruit Wreath. Look further,
towards the Pole, those are Cradle, the Path,
Burning Book, Puppet and Window.
But there, in the southern sky, pure, as if contained
in a blessed hand, you see the bright, luminous M...
it stands for The Mothers.


But the dead youth needs move on.
Silently, the elder Grief brings him to the cleft
in the valley, where the springhead of joy
shimmers in moonlight.
Reverently, she names it, saying:
In the Land of Men, it becomes a buoyant river.

Now, they stand at the foot of the mountain.
She embraces him, weeping.
Alone, he ascends into the Mountains of Earliest Grief,
and not once does his step sound
in the tonelessness of Fate.


Yet, the eternally dead might open our eyes,
show us a symbol: perhaps a catkin,
hanging from bare branch of hazel,
or in Spring time, the rain, when it falls
on dark earth...

And we, who think of fortune ascending,
might be moved to bewildering wonder
when we see a blessing fall.