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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) Sketch by Leonid Pasternak (Moscow c. 1900)

O trees of life, when is your winter?
Our nature’s not the same. We don’t have the instinct
of migrant birds. Late and out of season,
we suddenly throw ourselves to the wind
and fall into indifferent ponds. We
understand flowering and fading at once.
And somewhere lions still roam: so magnificent
they can’t understand weakness.

Even when fully intent on one thing,
we feel another’s costly tug. Hostility
is second nature to us. Having promised
one another distance, hunting, and home,
don’t lovers always cross each other’s boundaries?
Then for the sketchwork of an eye-wink,
a contrasting background’s painfully prepared
to make us see it. Because it’s very clear
we don’t know the contours of our feeling,
but only what shapes it from without.
Who hasn’t sat anxious in front of his heart’s
curtain? It would go up; another parting scene.
Easy to understand. The familiar garden
swaying slightly; then came the dancer.
Not him. Enough! However graceful he may be,
he’s disguised, turns into a suburbanite,
and walks into his house through the kitchen.
I don’t want these half-filled masks.
I’d rather have a doll. That’s whole.
I’ll put up with the empty body, the wire, and
the face that’s only surface. Here. I’m waiting.
Even if the lights go out; even if
I’m told, “That’s all”; even if emptiness
drifts toward me in gray drafts from the stage;
even if none of my silent ancestors
will sit next to me anymore, not a woman,
not even the boy with the squinting brown eyes —
I’ll stay here. One can always watch.

Aren’t I right? Father, you who found
life so bitter after tasting mine,
the first opaque infusion of my must,
as I kept growing, you kept on tasting
and, fascinated by the aftertaste
of such a strange future, tried my clouded gaze —
you, my father, who in my deepest hope
so often since your death have been afraid for me
and, serene, surrendered the kingdoms of serenity
the dead own, just for my bit of fate —
aren’t I right? And aren’t I right,
you who loved me for the first small impulse
of love for you I always turned from,
because the space in your faces, even while
I loved it, changed into outer space
where you no longer were . . . when I’m in the mood
to wait in front of the puppet stage — No,
to stare into it so intensely that finally
an angel must appear, an actor to counteract
my stare and pull up the empty skins.
Angel and doll: a real play at last.
Then what we continually divide
by our being here unites there.
Then the cycle of all change can finally
rise out of our seasons. Then the angel
plays over and above us. Look at the dying,
surely they suspect how everything we do
is full of sham, here where nothing
is really itself. O hours of childhood,
when more than the mere past was behind
each shape and the future wasn’t stretched out
before us. We were growing; sometimes we hurried
to grow up too soon, half for the sake of those
who had nothing more than being grown-up.
Yet when we were alone, we still amused
ourselves with the everlasting and stood there
in that gap between world and toy,
in a place which, from the very start,
had been established for a pure event.

Who will depict a child just as it stands? – place it
within its constellation, give it the measure of distance
into its hand? who make the death of children
out of grey bread, which hardens like a stone,
or place it in the cherry mouth as it were the core
of a shiny apple? Murderers are
easy to fathom. Only this: to take on death
completely, before even life begins,
contain it lightly and without complaining,
bereaves description.

Die vierte Elegie

O Bäume Lebens, o wann winterlich?
Wir sind nicht einig. Sind nicht wie die Zug-
vögel verständigt. Überholt und spät,
so drängen wir uns plötzlich Winden auf
und fallen ein auf teilnahmslosen Teich.
Blühn und verdorrn ist uns zugleich bewußt.
Und irgendwo gehn Löwen noch und wissen,
solang sie herrlich sind, von keiner Ohnmacht.

Uns aber, wo wir Eines meinen, ganz,
ist schon des andern Aufwand fühlbar. Feindschaft
ist uns das Nächste. Treten Liebende
nicht immerfort an Ränder, eins im andern,
die sich versprachen Weite, Jagd und Heimat.
Da wird für eines Augenblickes Zeichnung
ein Grund von Gegenteil bereitet, mühsam,
daß wir sie sähen; denn man ist sehr deutlich
mit uns. Wir kennen den Kontur
des Fühlens nicht: nur, was ihn formt von außen.
Wer saß nicht bang vor seines Herzens Vorhang?
Der schlug sich auf: die Szenerie war Abschied.
Leicht zu verstehen. Der bekannte Garten,
und schwankte leise: dann erst kam der Tänzer.
Nicht der. Genug! Und wenn er auch so leicht tut,
er ist verkleidet und er wird ein Bürger
und geht durch seine Küche in die Wohnung.
Ich will nicht diese halbgefüllten Masken,
lieber die Puppe. Die ist voll. Ich will
den Balg aushalten und den Draht und ihr
Gesicht aus Aussehn. Hier. Ich bin davor.
Wenn auch die Lampen ausgehn, wenn mir auch
gesagt wird: Nichts mehr – , wenn auch von der Bühne
das Leere herkommt mit dem grauen Luftzug,
wenn auch von meinen stillen Vorfahrn keiner
mehr mit mir dasitzt, keine Frau, sogar
der Knabe nicht mehr mit dem braunen Schielaug:
Ich hleibe dennoch. Es giebt immer Zuschaun.

Hab ich nicht recht? Du, der um mich so bitter
das Leben schmeckte, meines kostend, Vater,
den ersten trüben Aufguß meines Müssens,
da ich heranwuchs, immer wieder kostend
und, mit dem Nachgeschmack so fremder Zukunft
heschäftigt, prüftest mein beschlagnes Aufschaun, –
der du, mein Vater, seit du tot bist, oft
in meiner Hoffnung, innen in mir, Angst hast,
und Gleichmut, wie ihn Tote haben, Reiche
von Gleichmut, aufgiebst für mein bißchen Schicksal,
hab ich nicht recht? Und ihr, hab ich nicht recht,
die ihr mich liebtet für den kleinen Anfang
Liebe zu euch, von dem ich immer abkam,
weil mir der Raum in eurem Angesicht,
da ich ihn liebte, überging in Weltraum,
in dem ihr nicht mehr wart …..: wenn mir zumut ist,
zu warten vor der Puppenbühne, nein,
so völlig hinzuschaun, daß, um mein Schauen
am Ende aufzuwiegen, dort als Spieler
ein Engel hinmuß, der die Bälge hochreißt.
Engel und Puppe: dann ist endlich Schauspiel.
Dann kommt zusammen, was wir immerfort
entzwein, indem wir da sind. Dann entsteht
aus unsern Jahreszeiten erst der Umkreis
des ganzen Wandelns. Über uns hinüber
spielt dann der Engel. Sieh, die Sterbenden,
sollten sie nicht vermuten, wie voll Vorwand
das alles ist, was wir hier leisten. Alles
ist nicht es selbst. O Stunden in der Kindheit,
da hinter den Figuren mehr als nur
Vergangnes war und vor uns nicht die Zukunft.
Wir wuchsen freilich und wir drängten manchmal,
bald groß zu werden, denen halb zulieb,
die andres nicht mehr hatten, als das Großsein.
Und waren doch, in unserem Alleingehn,
mit Dauerndem vergnügt und standen da
im Zwischenraume zwischen Welt und Spielzeug,
an einer Stelle, die seit Anbeginn
gegründet war für einen reinen Vorgang.

Wer zeigt ein Kind, so wie es steht? Wer stellt
es ins Gestirn und giebt das Maß des Abstands
ihm in die Hand? Wer macht den Kindertod
aus grauem Brot, das hart wird, – oder läßt
ihn drin im runden Mund, so wie den Gröps
von einem schönen Apfel? …… Mörder sind
leicht einzusehen. Aber dies: den Tod,
den ganzen Tod, noch vor dem Leben so
sanft zu enthalten und nicht bös zu sein,
ist unbeschreiblich.
………………………
Translated by A. Poulin Jr.

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Thomas Mann (German, 1875-1955)

Thomas Mann (German, 1875-1955)

Mann won the Nobel prize for his novel Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, published in 1900 when Mann was 25 years old. It is the story of a wealthy, bourgeois family in northern Germany centered around middle-class life, the births and christenings, marriages, divorces, deaths, successes and failures in the family. These occurrences vary little from one generation to the next. As the Buddenbrooks family gives in to the seductions of modern life, the downfall of the family occurs quickly. The exploration of decadence in the novel is attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer who knew Mann during his youth. The three generations of the family depicted in the book experience a continuous economical, physical and spiritual decline, with true happiness becoming increasingly unavailable to all the members of the family. The characters who sacrifice their lives for the sake of the family firm meet unfortunate ends, just as those who do not.

Here are some clips from the 2008 film:

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Tobias is a story in the apocryphal Book of Tobias about a blind man who was able to overcome his fear and regain his sight through the archangel Raphael. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1860)

In the apocryphal Book of Tobias, a blind man is able to overcome his fear and regain his sight through the archangel Raphael. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1860)

Every angel’s terrifying. Almost deadly birds
of my soul, I know what you are, but, oh,
I still sing to you! What happened to the days of Tobias
when one of you stood in a simple doorway, partly
disguised for the trip, radiant, no longer appalling;
(a young man to the young man as he looked out amazed).
If the archangel, the dangerous one behind the stars,
took just one step down toward us today: the quicker
pounding of our heart would kiss us. Who are you?

Fortunate first ones, creation’s pampered darlings,
ranges, mountain tops, morning-red ridges
of all Beginning — seed of a blossoming god,
hinges of light, hallways, stairways, thrones,
space of being, force fields of ecstasy, storms
of unchecked rapture, and suddenly, separate,
mirrors: each drawing its own widespread
steaming beauty back into its face.

But we: we vanish in our feelings. Oh, we breathe
ourselves out, and out; our smell dissolves
from ember to ember. It’s true, someone may tell us:
“You’re in my blood, this room, Spring floods
with you . . .” What good is it? He can’t hold us.
We vanish in him and around him. And the beautiful,
oh, who can hold them back? Some look is always rising
in their faces, and falling. Like dew on new grass,
like heat from a steaming dish, everything we are rises
away from us. O smile, where are you going?
O upturned look: new, warm, the heart’s receding wave —
it hurts me, but that’s what we are. Does the cosmic
space we dissolve into taste of us, then? Do angels
really absorb only what poured out of them,
or sometimes, as if by mistake, is there a trace
of us, too? Do the contours of their features bear
as much of us as that vague look on a pregnant woman’s
face? Unnoticed by them in their whirling back
into themselves. (Why should they notice.)

If they were understood, lovers might say marvelous
things in the night air. Because it seems everything
wants to camouflage us. Look, trees exist;
the houses we live in still hold up. But we
pass by all of it like an exchange of breath.
Everything conspires to ignore us, half out of shame,
perhaps, half out of some speechless hope.

Lovers, satisfied with each other, I’m asking you
about us. You hold each other. What’s your proof?
Look, sometimes it happens my hands become aware
of each other, or my worn out face seeks shelter
in them. Then I feel a slight sensation.
But who’d dare to exist just for that?
Yet you, who grow in the other’s ecstasy
until he’s overcome and begs: “No more!”;
you, who in one another’s hands grow
more abundant like grapes in a vintage year;
you, who sometimes disappear, but only when the other
takes over completely, I’m asking you about us.
I know why you touch each other so ecstatically:
that touch lasts. That place you cover with such
tenderness doesn’t vanish, because you feel a pure
duration there. In your embrace you almost find
the promise of eternity. And yet, when you’ve survived
the fear of that first look, the longing at the window,
and that first walk in the garden, once: lovers,
are you still the same? When you lift yourselves
up to each other’s lips and begin, drink for drink—
oh how strangely the drinker then slips from the role.

Didn’t the caption of human gestures on Attic steles
amaze you? Weren’t love and separation placed
on those shoulders so lightly they seemed made
of other stuff than we are? Remember the hands:
despite the power in the torso, they lie weightless.
The self-controlled knew this: we can only go this far.
All we can do is touch one another like this. The gods
can press down harder on us, but that’s the gods’ affair.

If only we could find something pure, contained,
narrow, human —our own small strip of orchard
between river and rock. For our heart rises
out of us as it did out of the others. And we can’t
follow it any longer into figures that tame it, or
into godlike bodies where it finds a greater mastery.

Die zweite Elegie

Jeder Engel ist schrecklich. Und dennoch, weh mir,
ansing ich euch, fast tödliche Vögel der Seele,
wissend um euch. Wohin sind die Tage Tobiae,
da der Strahlendsten einer stand an der einfachen Haustür,
zur Reise ein wenig verkleidet und schon nicht mehr furchtbar;
(Jüngling dem Jüngling, wie er neugierig hinaussah).
Träte der Erzengel jetzt, der gefährliche, hinter den Sternen
eines Schrittes nur nieder und herwärts: hochauf-
schlagend erschlüg uns das eigene Herz. Wer seid ihr?

Frühe Gcglückte, ihr Verwöhnten der Schöpfung,
Höhenzüge, morgenrötliche Grate
aller Erschaffung, – Pollen der blühenden Gottheit,
Gelenke des Lichtes, Gänge, Treppen, Throne,
Räume aus Wesen, Schilde aus Wonne, Tumulte
stürmisch entzückten Gefühls und plötzlich, einzeln,
Spiegel:  die die entströmte eigene Schönheit
wiederschöpfen zurück in das eigene Antlitz.

Denn wir, wo wir fühlen, verflüchtigen; ach wir
atmen uns aus und dahin; von Holzglut zu Holzglut
geben wir schwächern Geruch. Da sagt uns wohl einer:
ja, du gehst mir ins Blut, dieses Zimmer, der Frühling
füllt sich mit dir … Was hilfts, er kann uns nicht halten,
wir schwinden in ihm und um ihn. Und jene, die schön sind,
o wer hält sie zurück? Unaufhörlich steht Anschein
auf in ihrem Gesicht und geht fort. Wie Tau von dem Frühgras
hebt sich das Unsre von uns, wie die Hitze von einem
heißen Gericht. O Lächeln, wohin? O Aufschaun:
neue, warme, entgehende Welle des Herzens – ;
weh mir: wir sind s doch. Schmeckt denn der Weltraum,
in den wir uns lösen, nach uns? Fangen die Engel
wirklich nur Ihriges auf, ihnen Entströmtes,
oder ist manchmal, wie aus Versehen, ein wenig
unseres Wesens dabei? Sind wir in ihre
Züge soviel nur gemischt wie das Vage in die Gesichter
schwangerer Frauen? Sie merken es nicht in dem Wirbel
ihrer Rückkehr zu sich. (Wie sollten sie’s merken.)

Liebende könnten, verstünden sie’s, in der Nachtluft
wunderlich reden. Denn es scheint, daß uns alles
verheimlicht. Siehe, die Bäume sind;  die Häuser,
die wir bewohnen, bestehn noch. Wir nur
ziehen allem vorbei wie ein luftiger Austausch.
Und alles ist einig, uns zu verschweigen, halb als
Schande vielleicht und halb als unsägliche Hoffnung.
Liebende, euch, ihr in einander Genügten,
frag ich nach uns. Ihr greift euch. Habt ihr Beweise?
Seht, mir geschiehts, daß meine Hände einander
inne werden oder daß mein gebrauchtes
Gesicht in ihnen sich schont. Das giebt mir ein wenig
Empfindung. Doch wer wagte darum schon zu sein?
Ihr aber, die ihr im Entzücken des anderen
zunehmt, bis er euch überwältigt
anfleht: nicht mehr  – ; die ihr unter den Händen
euch reichlicher werdet wie Traubenjahre;
die ihr manchmal vergeht, nur weil der andre
ganz überhand nimmt: euch frag ich nach uns. Ich weiß,
ihr berührt euch so selig, weil die Liebkosung verhält,
weil die Stelle nicht schwindet, die ihr, Zärtliche,
zudeckt; weil ihr darunter das reine
Dauern verspürt. So versprecht ihr euch Ewigkeit fast
von der Umarmung. Und doch, wenn ihr der ersten
Blicke Schrecken besteht und die Sehnsucht am Fenster,
und den ersten gemeinsamen Gang, ein Mal durch den Garten:
Liebende, seid ihrs dann noch? Wenn ihr einer dem andern
euch an den Mund hebt und ansetzt – : Getränk an Getränk:
o wie entgeht dann der Trinkende seltsam der Handlung.

Erstaunte euch nicht auf attischcn Stelen die Vorsicht
menschlicher Geste? war nicht Liebe und Abschied
so leicht auf die Schultern gelegt, als wär es aus anderm
Stoffe gemacht als bei uns? Gedenkt euch der Hände,
wie sie drucklos beruhen, obwohl in den Torsen die Kraft steht.
Diese Beherrschten wußten damit: so weit sind wirs,
dieses  ist unser, uns so  zu berühren; stärker
stemmen die Götter uns an. Doch dies ist Sache der Götter.

Fänden auch wir ein reines, verhaltenes, schmales
Menschliches, einen unseren Streifen Fruchtlands
zwischen Strom und Gestein. Denn das eigene Herz übersteigt uns
noch immer wie jene. Und wir können ihm nicht mehr
nachschaun in Bilder, die es besänftigen, noch in
göttliche Körper, in denen es größer sich mäßigt.
………………………………..
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926),
translated by A. Poulin Jr.

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Gerhart Hauptmann (German, 1862-1946)

Gerhart Hauptmann (German, 1862-1946)

This excerpt sets the scene for the first Act of his play Die Ratten (The Rats),a Berlin tragic comedy published in 1911: The First Act The attic of a former cavalry barracks in Berlin. A windowless room that receives all its light from a lamp which burns suspended over a round table. From the back wall opens a straight passage which connects the room with the outer door — a door with iron hasps and a primitive signal bell which any one desiring to enter rings by means of a bell rope. A door in the right wall leads to an adjoining room, one in the left wall leads to the stairs into the loft immediately under the roof. Into this store room, as well as into the space visible to the spectator, the former theatrical manager, Harro Hassenreuter, has gathered his collection of properties. In the prevalent gloom it is difficult to decide whether the place is the armour room of an old castle, a museum of antiquities or the shop of a costumer. Stands with helmets and breast-plates are put up on either side of the passage; a row of similar stands almost covers the two sides of the front room. The stairs wind upward between two mailed figures. At the head of the stairs is a wooden trap-door. In the left foreground, against the wall, is a high desk. Ink, pens, old ledgers, a tall stool, as well as several chairs with tall backs and the round table make it clear that the room serves the purposes of an office. On the table is a decanter for water and several glasses; above the desk hang a number of photographs. These photographs represent Hassenreuter in the part of Karl Moor (in Schiller’s ” Robbers “), as well as in a number of other parts. One of the mailed dummies wears a huge laurel wreath about its neck. The laurel wreath is tied with a riband which bears, in gilt letters, the following inscription: “To our gifted manager Hassenreuter, from his grateful colleagues.” A series of enormous red bows shows the inscriptions: “To the inspired presenter of Karl Moor … To the incomparable, unforgettable Karl Moor”… etc., etc. The room is utilized as far as its space will permit for the storing of costumes. Wherever possible, German, Spanish and English garments of every age hang on hooks. Swedish riding boots, Spanish rapiers and German broadswords are scattered about. The door to the left bears the legend: Library. The whole room displays picturesque disorder. Trumpery of all kinds — weapons, goblets, cups — is scattered about. It is Sunday toward the end of May.
……………………………………
Translated by Ludwig Lewisohn

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Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse (German, 1830-1914)

Paul Johann Ludwig Heyse (German, 1830-1914)

This excerpt is from the opening paragraph of his novella, L’Arrabbiata, published in 1857: “The sun was just rising. Broad strips of mist often obscure that section of the coast. Under the high rocky shores were narrow bays. A fisherman and his wife were pulling a net into the boat. The ropes and nets lay outside over night. We will carry the mast, the oars, and a sail into the large cave. Caves are being built deep into the rocks. Nobody loitered at the landing-place. The old people will form a great chain. Is there not a woman standing on that flat roof? The fisherman busies himself with the rigging. While I am helping my daughter, the sun rises over the flat roofs of the city.”

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Rudolf Eucken (German, 1846-1926)

Rudolf Eucken (German, 1846-1926)


“It seems as if man could never escape from himself, and yet, when shut in to the monotony of his own sphere, he is overwhelmed with a sense of emptiness. The only remedy here is radically to alter the conception of man himself, to distinguish within him the narrower and the larger life, the life that is straitened and finite and can never transcend itself, and an infinite life through which he enjoys communion with the immensity and the truth of the universe. Can man rise to this spiritual level? On the possibility of his doing so rests all our hope of supplying any meaning or value to life.”
……………………………..
From Der Sinn und Wert des Lebens

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Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (German, 1817-1903)

Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (German, 1817-1903)

Mommsen was a classical historian. His many writings – a bibliography in 1887 lists over 900 items – revolutionized the study of Roman history.

Mark Twain met him on a tour of Europe in 1892 and described him this way, “When apparently the last eminent guest had long ago taken his place, again those three bugle-blasts rang out, and once more the swords leaped from their scabbards. Who might this late comer be? Nobody was interested to inquire. Still, indolent eyes were turned toward the distant entrance, and we saw the silken gleam and the lifted sword of a guard of honor plowing through the remote crowds. Then we saw that end of the house rising to its feet; saw it rise abreast the advancing guard all along like a wave. This supreme honor had been offered to no one before. There was an excited whisper at our table—’MOMMSEN!’—and the whole house rose. Rose and shouted and stamped and clapped and banged the beer mugs. Just simply a storm!

“Then the little man with his long hair and Emersonian face edged his way past us and took his seat. I could have touched him with my hand—Mommsen!—think of it!…I would have walked a great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without trouble or tramp or cost of any kind. Here he was clothed in a titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men.”

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Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic
orders? Even if one of them suddenly held me
to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming
presence. Because beauty’s nothing
and we adore it because of the serene scorn
it could kill us with. Every angel’s terrifying.
So I control myself and choke back the lure
of my dark cry. Ah, who can we turn to,
then? Neither angels nor men,
and the animals already know by instinct
we’re not comfortably at home
in our translated world. Maybe what’s left
for us in some tree on a hillside we can look at
day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,
and the perverse affection of a habit
that liked us so much it never let go.
And the night, oh the night when the wind
full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,
gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely
heart — she’d stay on for anyone. Is she easier on lovers?
But they use each other to hide their fate.
You still don’t understand? Throw the emptiness in
your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds
will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.

Yes, Spring needed you. Many stars
waited for you to see them. A wave
that had broken long ago swelled toward you,
or when you walked by an open window, a violin
gave itself. All that was your charge.
But could you live up to it? Weren’t you always
distracted by hope, as if all this promised
you a lover? (Where would you have hidden her,
with all those strange and heavy thoughts
flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)
When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;
their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough.
You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,
could love you so much more than those you loved.
Begin again. try out your impotent praise again;
think about the hero who lives on: even his fall
was only an excuse for another life, a final birth.
But exhausted nature draws all lovers back
into herself, as if there weren’t the energy
to create them twice. Have you remembered
Gaspara Stampa well enough? From that greater love’s
example, any girl deserted by her lover
can believe: “If only I could be like her!”
Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more
fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed
us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum
becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.

Voices, voices. My heart, listen as only
saints have listened: until some colossal
sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,
they listened so intently that, impossible
creatures, they kept on kneeling. Not that you could
endure the voice of God! But listen to the breathing,
the endless news growing out of silence,
rustling toward you from those who died young.
whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,
didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?
Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,
like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.
What do they want from me? That I gently wipe away
the look of suffered injustice sometimes
hindering the pure motion of spirits a little.

It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth
anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,
not giving the meaning of a human future
to roses and other things that promise so much;
no longer being what you used to be
in hands that were always anxious,
throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.
It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore. Strange
to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering
in space. And it’s hard being dead and straining
to make up for it until you can begin to feel
a trace of eternity. But the living are wrong
to make distinctions that are too absolute.
Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether
they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal torrent hurls all ages through
both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.

At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;
we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently
as we outgrow out mother’s breast. But we, who need
such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress
so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?
Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament of Linos,
the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,
and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned
by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt
that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?

Die erste Elegie

Stimmen, Stimmen. Höre, mein Herz, wie sonst nur
Heilige hörten: daß sie der riesige Ruf
aufhob vom Boden; sie aber knieten,
Unmögliche, weiter und achtetens nicht:
So waren sie hörend. Nicht, daß du Gottes ertrügest
die Stimme, bei weitem. Aber das Wehende höre,
die ununterbrochene Nachricht, die aus Stille sich bildet.
Es rauscht jetzt von jenen jungen Toten zu dir.
Wo immer du eintratst, redete nicht in Kirchen
zu Rom und Neapel ruhig ihr Schicksal dich an?
Oder es trug eine Inschrift sich erhaben dir auf,
wie neulich die Tafel in Santa Maria Formosa.
Was sie mir wollen? leise soll ich des Unrechts
Anschein abtun, der ihrer Geister
reine Bewegung manchmal ein wenig behindert.

Freilich ist es seltsam, die Erde nicht mehr zu bewohnen,
kaum erlernte Gebräuche nicht mehr zu üben,
Rosen, und andern eigens versprechenden Dingen
nicht die Bedeutung menschlicher Zukunft zu geben;
das, was man war in unendlich ängstlichen Händen,
nicht mehr zu sein, und selbst den eigenen Namen
wegzulassen wie ein zerbrochenes Spielzeug.
Seltsam, die Wünsche nicht weiterzuwünschen. Seltsam,
alles, was sich bezog, so lose im Raume
flattern zu sehen. Und das Totsein ist mühsam
und voller Nachholn, daß man allmählich ein wenig
Ewigkeit spürt. – Aber Lebendige machen
alle den Fehler, daß sie zu stark unterscheiden.
Engel (sagt man) wüßten oft nicht, ob sie unter
Lebenden gehn oder Toten. Die ewige Strömung
reißt durch beide Bereiche alle Alter
immer mit sich und übertönt sie in beiden.

Schließlich brauchen sie uns nicht mehr, die Früheentrückten,
man entwöhnt sich des Irdischen sanft, wie man den Brüsten
milde der Mutter entwächst. Aber wir, die so große
Geheimnisse brauchen, denen aus Trauer so oft
seliger Fortschritt entspringt – : könnten wir sein ohne sie?
Ist die Sage umsonst, daß einst in der Klage um Linos
wagende erste Musik dürre Erstarrung durchdrang;
daß erst im erschrockenen Raum, dem ein beinah göttlicher Jüngling
plötzlich für immer enttrat, das Leere in jene
Schwingung geriet, die uns jetzt hinreißt und tröstet und hilft.
…………………….
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926),
translated by A Poulin, Jr.

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Death Fugue

Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at dawntime and noontime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and play
he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the air
then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink
Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue
he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky
he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland

your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite
…………………………….
by Paul Celan (born 1920)
Translated by Jerome Rothenberg (born 1931)

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Traveling home from Vermont recently, I sat on the plane next to a man who had translated much of the poet Rainer Marie Rilke’s work. In a discussion about Rilke’s poem The Panther, I asked about the line, “A mighty will stands paralyzed.” He said a more literal interpretation of the line is, “In the heart, being is arrested.”

Der Panther

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.
…………………………….
The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly — . An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
………………………………….
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), translated by Stephen Mitchell

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