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Mimesis: Rilke's Duino Elegy No. 1

Duino Castle, near Trieste (Italy), where Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his First Duino Elegy, loosely got up here:

Woah! Among the Guardian Angels, who would hear me

If I shrieked? And even supposing one suddenly came near me,

I'd simply succumb to its vastly brighter Being

Such beauty's but the intimation of a hardly bearable frisson,

gawking gobsmacked, impressed despite ourselves

by its cool restraint in not killing us.

All angels are scary! So what's to depend on? People?

The wise animals know that we are strangers in this world

We wo/mansplain. But perhaps there's some ancient tree

left in the back forty, one we scarcely notice anymore,

yesteryear's road, or a habitual figure

in the carpet we rode in on that loyally sticks with us.

Oh, and the night, the night that made the welkin ring,

licking our faces, waiting for everyone,

even Godot, lonely hearts' hangout.

Such a deal! For lovers lighter?

They fool themselves, using each other.

But you know that. Toss your nothingness

out the window into the expectant arms

of the waitress you've been waiting for,

cat among the pigeons, take a deep breath,

or two, as the birds fly, inward, in the expanding air.

Spring needs you, yes, the stars line up to shine on you,

a wave rising in the past, sweeping you beneath

an open window through which a violin gave voice.

It was all a test. But seriously did you ace it?

Weren't you always deluded, expecting that it promised love?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yearn for it, though, sing the lovers,

their famed feeling now long not deathless enough.

The forsaken whom one almost envies, so much more loving than the gratified.

Ever begin anew the unachievable eulogy;

think: the hero hangs on, even his downfall is a pretext—to be: his final rebirth,

But lovers depleted Nature resumes into herself, lacking the strength to feed them twice.

Let Bridget Jones be the shining example for dumped girls:

"Oh, what if I could only be like her?"

In the final analysis might not this oldest of sorrows be fruitful?

Isn't it time for us lovingly to free ourselves

From our loved ones, quivering,

like the arrow the bowstring releases in tandem to be more than itself. Staying put isn't an option.

Voices, voices. Hear, my heart, as otherwise only holy ones hear,

as though some mighty cry raised them from the ground;

but these impossibles kneel and pay no heed:

Thus they attend. Not that you can hear That voice.

No way! But hear the wind blow and news of silence spelled out plain.

It roars up at you from those who died young

Whose destiny spoke quiet, does it not?

Or some inscription draws attention to itself: The End

wherever you seek sanctuary, abroad or at home,

as lately in Gaza and the Donbas.

What do these dead want of me? That I gently wipe away

the stain of injustice that sometimes bleeds into their spirits' peaceful movement?

Yes, it is odd to reside no more on Earth,

no more to practice customs hardly learned,

not to read into flowers and other promised things

the potential of a human future;

to be no longer what one was in loving hands,

and abandon even one’s own name like a broken plaything.

Odd no longer to wish wishes.


Everything that was yours now floats in air.

Being dead is tiresome

and full of retrospection

if in the end one is to enjoy Eternity a bit.

Angels (they say) often don’t know whether

they have to do with the living or the dead—

the eternal stream bears all ages through both realms

and silences them in both.

In the end those perished early need us no more.

They wear out earthly wants, as one gently outgrows

one’s mother’s milk. But we, so much in awe of great mysteries,

who all too often require grief for our instruction, could

we live without them? In the pointless mythology

of the long-ago, lamenting the death of (was it?) Rudolph Valentino,

a daring new music shattered the numbed world,

which almost-godlike youth tolerated no more,

and priming its emptiness vibrated.

Die young like him and make a handsome corpse!

Note: Rilke died in 1926, a few months after Valentino's sensational funeral that year, when 100,000 people lined the streets in Manhattan and despondent fans committed suicide.


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