Fragment of an Elegy

Fragment of an Elegy
 by Rainer Maria Rilke
  
 Now shall I praise the cities, those long-surviving
 (I watched them in awe) great constellations of earth.
 for only in praising is my heart still mine, so violently
 do I know the world. And even my lament
 turns into a paean before my disconsolate heart.
 Let no one say that I don’t love life, the eternal
 presence: I pulsate in her; she bears me, she gives me  
 the spaciousness of this day, the primeval workday
 for me to make use of, and over my existence flings,
 in her magnanimity, nights that have never been.
 Her strong hand is above me, and if she should hold me under,
 submerged in fate, I would have to learn how to breathe
 down there. Even her most lightly-entrusted mission
 would fill me with songs of her; although I suspect
 that all she wants is for me to be vibrant as she is.
 Once poets resounded over the battlefield; what voice
 can outshout the rattle of this metallic age
 that is struggling on toward its careening future?
 And indeed it hardly requires the call, its own battle-din
 roars into song. 

 So, let me stand for a while in front of the transient: not accusing, but once again  admiring, marvelling.  And if perhaps something founders
 before my eyes and stirs me into lament,  it is not a reproach. 
  
 Why shouldn’t more youthful nations
 rush past the graveyard of cultures long ago rotten?
  
 How pitiful it would be if greatness needed the slightest
 indulgence. Let him whose soul is no longer startled
 and transformed by palaces, by gardens’ boldness, by the rising
 and falling of ancient fountains, by everything held back
 in paintings or by the infinite thereness of statues -
 let such a person go out to his daily work, where
 greatness is lying in ambush and someday, at some turn,
 will leap upon him and force him to fight for his life. 
I am fighting!

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