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Rainer Maria's Eighth Elegy

Posted to WritersAndGenres





Sitting on my back deck with the usual suspects (cigars, booze and books) I was so taken with a poem I had to type it up. Here it is for you:

The Eighth Elegy


Dedicated to Rudolf Kassner

With all its eyes the natural world
looks out
into the Open . Only our eyes are
turned
backward, and surround plant, animal,
child
like traps, as they emerge into their
freedom.
We know what is really out there
only from
the animal’s gaze; for we take the
very young
child and force it around, so that it
sees
objects – not the Open, which is so
deep in animals’ faces. Free from
death.
We, only, can see death; the free
animal
has its decline in back of it, forever,
and God in front, and when it moves,
it moves
already in eternity, like a fountain.
Never, not for a single day, do we
have
before us that pure space into which
flowers
endlessly open. Always there is World
and never Nowhere without the No:
that pure
unseperated element which one
breathes
without desire and endlessly knows.
A child
may wander there for hours, though
the timeless
stillness, may get lost in it and be
shaken back. Or someone dies and
is it.
For, nearing death, one doesn’t see
death; but stares
beyond, perhaps with an animal’s
vast gaze.
Lovers, if the beloved were not there
blocking the view, are close to it, and
marvel . . .
As if by some mistake, it opens for
Them
behind each other . . . But neither
can move past
the other, and it changes back to
World.
Forever turned toward objects, we see
in them
the mere reflection of the realm of
freedom,
which we have dimmed, Or when
some animal
mutely, serenely, looks us through
and though.
That is what fate means: to be op –
posite,
to be opposite and nothing else,
forever.

If the animal moving toward us so
securely
in a different direction had our kind
of
consciousness –, it would wrench us
around and drag us
along its path. But it feels its life as
boundless,
unfathomable, and without regard
to its own condition: pure, like its
outward gaze.
And where we see the future, it sees
all time
and itself within all time, forever
healed.

Yet in the alert, warm animal there lies
the pain and burden of an enormous
sadness.
For it too feels the presence of what
often
overwhelms us: a memory, as if
the elements we keep pressing toward
was once
more intimate, more true, and our
communion
infinitely tender. Here all is distance;
there it was breath. After that first
home,
the second seems ambiguous and
drafty.
Oh bliss of the tiny creatures which
remains
forever inside the womb that was its
shelter;
joy of the gnat which, still within,
leaps up
even at its marriage: for everything
is womb.
And look at the half-assurance of
the bird,
which knows both inner and outer,
from its source,
as if it were the soul of an Etruscan ,
flown out of a dead man received
inside a space,
but with his reclining image as the lid.
And how bewildered is any womb-
born creature
that has to fly. As if terrified and
fleeing
from itself, it zigzags through the air,
the way
a crack runs through a teacup. So
the bat
quivers across the porcelain evening.

And we: spectators, always, every-
where,
turned toward the world of objects,
never outward.
It fills us. We arrange it. It breaks
down.
We rearrange it, then break down
ourselves.

Who has twisted us around like this,
so that
no matter what we do, we are in the
posture
of someone going away? Just as, upon
the farthest hill, which shows him his
whole valley
one last time, he turns, stops, lin-
gers –,
so we live here, forever taking leave.