Ten Songs for Dying is copyrighted 1996 by R. Earle Harris
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
The Elegies: Princess Maria von Thurm und Taxis Hohenlohe.
The Fifth Elegy: Frau Hertha Koenig.
The Eighth Elegy: Rudolf Kassner.
The Translation: Ms. Margaret Hoffmann Harris.
Who, among the seraphim, will hear me when I cry?
And suppose one among them were suddenly to hold me
In his arms: I would be lost,
Diminished by the largesse of his being. For the beautiful
Is nothing but a terrible beginning that we continue to endure.
And we cherish it, its calm refusal
To destroy us. A single beautiful idea fills us with terror.
I hold myself back and swallow the frightened
Darkness of my sobs.
Who do we bring ourselves to need?
Not angels, not men, and even the clever animals
Can see that we are ill at ease in this meaningful world.
To us remains the tree clinging to a cliff;
We watch it day by day.
To us remains the street of yesterday
And the perverted loyalty of a habit that found us sympathetic,
Made itself at home, and would not go away.
O, and the night, the night, when the wind of the universe
Withers our face--for whom would it not remain,
The longed-for, softly disappointing,
Before whom the solitary heart stands in pain.
Is it easier on lovers?
No, they only cover themselves with its fate.
Now do you understand? Throw the emptiness
From your arms into the skies where we breathe and maybe
The birds, at one with flight, will feel the expansion.
The springtime needed you. The stars would wait
For you to notice them. A wave, full of times past, rose up.
And there, as you came by the open window, the violin
Played just for you. Everything was decided. But did you act?
Weren't you always spread so thin by expectations
As if all proclaimed their love to you?
(Where will you shelter her
There, where the great strange thoughts pass in and out
And often stay the night?)
You are desired, the lovers sing, their celebrated
Passion still not quite immortal.
One, the abandoned, you almost envy and you prefer her
To the other, the silenced.
Begin now to take up the unattainable glory.
Think: it lifts up the hero, for whom even defeat
Was only an excuse, his final birth.
But exhausted nature took the lovers back inside, as if
It lacked the strength for love and more.
Has your thought embraced Gaspara Stampa: that one like her,
Eluded by her love, knew herself a heightened
Instance of the lovers and could ask, Can I be like them?
Shouldn't these oldest of pains be for us more prolific?
Isn't it time for us to lovingly free ourselves
From the beloved and, trembling, endure it:
Like the arrow endures the string and with it, in release,
Is more than itself. To remain . . . nowhere.
Voices, voices. Hear my heart, as only
The holy heard the swell that lifted them, still kneeling,
From the ground. Impossibly,
It continued and they gave no notice;
So was their hearing. Not that you could endure
The voice of God, far from it. But hear the wailing,
The unbroken news, that builds in the silence.
It rushes from every still-warm corpse to you.
Wherever you go, will you hear your fate in churches
From Rome to Naples quietly speaking to you?
Or does it just hold up to you its inscription
As it did the other day in Santa Maria Formosa?
What do they want of me? I should quietly put away
Even the appearance of wrong-doing that might hinder,
In the least, their pure movement.
And it is strange, no longer to occupy the earth,
Scarcely-learned necessities no more to need,
Roses and other especially promising things found
Stripped of the meaning a mortal's future gives;
That, which once was in eternally fearful hands,
Will be no more, and to drop your very name
Like a broken toy.
Strange, no more to wish for wishes. Strange, to see
All things, once related, dangling loose in space.
And being dead is difficult, a hard recovery
To the point of glimpsing immortality.
But the living make all the mistakes; they work too hard
They say angels can scarcely tell if they move among
The living or the dead. The eternal flood drags all the ages
Through both realms and drowns them all together.
And in the end, they no longer need us, the ones who go before;
We are gently weaned from mortality, as we softly outgrow
A mother's breast. But we who need such mighty secrets--
For whom sweet progress often comes from sadness--
Can we do without them?
Is the legend a lie, that once, in mourning Lino,
When the first music cast itself to pierce the sterile numbness, that
In that terrified space (dispensed with forever, all at once,
By an almost godlike boy) the emptiness grew
With each vibration, that now overcomes us and trusts us and is our
Each beautiful idea is terror. And still it grieves me
And I sing to you--almost deadly angels of the soul--knowing you well.
Where are the Dies Tobiae, when the most radiant
Among you stood in the humble doorway,
Slightly disguised for the journey, and somehow no longer fearsome.
(Child among children, how curiously he looked about.)
Then came the archangel, the fell, from behind the stars
A single step lower and usward. Our heart beat
Hard. Who are you?
The early successes, pampered of creation;
A mountain chain, reddened by morning;
The ridge of all creation; God's pollen in the wind;
A joining of lights, a pathway, ascension, dominion,
Spaces of being, sign of delight, tumult storming,
Enchanted feeling and suddenly--alone--a mirror,
Where beauty flows and creates itself
Again in its own countenance.
And we, as we feel, evaporate; O, we breathe
In and out, from ardour to ardour our
Savour declining. One tells us truly:
Yes, you are a part of me, this room, the whole springtime
Is full of you . . . but to no avail. She cannot hold us;
In and around her we fade. And each beautiful idea,
What holds it back? Unstoppable, all possibility arises
From her countenance and is gone, as dew on new grass.
That which is ours rises from us, like steam from
Hot food on a plate. Where is the smile?
And the upturned glance--new, warm,
elusive surge of the heart--
O, that is us. Does the work to which we give
Ourselves acquire our savour? Do the angels only
Catch up their own, that comes from them,
Or is it sometimes, almost by mistake, a measure of
Our own substance? Are we such a part of the unfolding,
Like the distant vagueness in the faces of pregnant women?
In the whirlwind, the intoxication,
You do not notice their return. (And how should you notice?)
Lovers, if they understood, could wondrously speak into
The night air. For it appears that all things are hidden.
See, the trees exist: the houses
That we inhabit still stand. But we pass it all by
Like a vague exchange of air.
And all are united to pass us by in silence, half
In shame and half in unutterable hope.
Lovers, you, sufficient for yourselves,
I ask you for us. You hold each other; is this your proof?
See, it happens that my hands become
Aware of each other or that my well-worn
Face is cared for by others. This leads me to see
A little more. Who really dares to exist by these?
But you increase within the enchantments of others,
Until they are overcome and implore you: no more.
Beneath your hands they become more abundant than harvested grapes.
And then sometimes you vanish, but only when they gain
The upper hand. I ask you for us. I know that while
You touch each other, blissfully touch, while the caress lasts,
While the figure does not fade, that you, the tender,
Conceal yourself because you perceive the pure permanence
Beneath it all. You promise each other eternity in the
First embrace. And yes, then you endure the first
Appearance of terror and the longing by the window
And the first walk together, one time through the garden.
Lovers, are you still there? When you lift each
Other to your lips and unite--drink after drink--
Strange how the drinker eludes the consequence.
Aren't you astonished how the Attic statues presage the
Acts of man? Weren't love and decision so light upon
Their shoulders laid, as if they were made from other
Stuff than we? Think on how the hands hang
Weightless while the power in the torsos remains.
The masterpieces know: so far as we are,
This is ours, ours to touch upon. The gods support
Us the stronger. And these are the concerns of the gods.
We also found a pure, suppressed, narrow,
Human swath of harvestland
Bounded by river and rocks. Our own heart overcomes us
Like all the rest. And we can no longer gaze
On it, even in pictures that appease it, nor in godlike
Bodies, in which the greater restrains itself.
It is one thing to sing the beloved and, alas, another,
That hidden, guilty river-god of the blood.
She knew him from afar--her youth--what he knew
In himself of the lord of the blood: often out of his loneliness,
Before the maiden softened, often as if she did not exist.
O, and then weeping over some unknown, his god would
Lift its head and summon the night to unending revolt.
O, the blood of Neptune and his fell trident;
O, the dark wind of his breast from out the scarred conch.
Hear how the night hollows and turns inside-out. Her stars--
Did not the light of her countenance come from the joy
Of the lovers? And his heart's knowing, from her pure faith
And not the untouched stars?
O, but not for you, nor for his mother is the span of his brow
Tight with anticipation.
And not for you, the maiden who feels him, not for you
Did his lips express fear.
Do you really think that your light steps could
Have startled him so--you, who change like the wind?
True, you have frightened him to the heart; still, older terrors
Turn in him with the immanence of the shock.
Call him . . . but you cannot call him from his dark ways.
Freely he wishes to come. He rises up. He makes himself at one
With your secret heart and takes it and begins to be.
Has he begun yet?
Mother, you made him small; it was you that began him.
He was new to you. You bowed the friendly world
Across his new eyes and thwarted the unfriendly.
O, where are the years when you, with only your slender
Form, defended him from the flow of chaos?
You hid so much from him, the gloomy, doubt-filled room--
You made it harmless. From your heart full of refuge you
Brought to his night-empty room the fullness of the human heart.
Not in darkness: no, with your nearness
You illumined the night and it shone as if from agap .
Nowhere a creaking, but you would laughingly explain,
As if you had always known how floorboards behaved themselves.
And he listened and was comforted. So much was tenderly
Possible in your presence; in the closet his destiny rustled
Among the coats and in the folds of the curtains
His discordant future passed that could not keep still.
And he, as he lay, embodiment of repose, beneath
Drowsing eyelids, his light form
Sweetness, relaxed in precious ease,
Seemed one protected . . . but within, what held or
Hindered the floods of becoming?
O, there was no hint in the sleeper; sleeping
Or dreaming or feverish, how he struggled on.
He, new, fearful, how entangled he was,
With the internal coiling of pressing tendrils,
Already forming patterns, struggling growths, living,
Pursuing forms. How he yielded himself--beloved.
Beloved: inside him, his internal wilderness,
The primeval within him--on this silent, green-lit disruption
Stood his heart. Beloved. It went on, ripping out
Its own roots in violent genesis,
Its tiny birth already outlived. Lovingly,
He arose in the ancient blood, into the defiles
Where terror lay still seated upon his fathers. And that
Every terror, winking, knew him . . . was understood.
Yes, terror smiled . . .
Rarely, Mother, have you smiled so tenderly. How could he
Not love what smiled upon him? He loved it even
Before he loved you, because, even as you bore him
It was dissolved in the water that bears the seed.
You see, we do not love as if we were blossoms, for
Only one season; in us rises, when we love,
An unimaginable savour in our embrace. O, maiden,
This: that we loved in us, not once, nor for the future, but
The immeasurable ferment; not a solitary child,
But rather the fathers, that like ruined mountains
Hold us up; rather the dry river-bed of a
One-time mother; rather the whole
Muted landscape under clouded destiny
Or clear--this came of you, maiden, first.
And you, what do you know? You entice
The past aloft in the lovers. What feelings
You stir up out of the banished substance. What women
Are hating you? What dark men
Excite in you the blood of youth?
Dead children turn to you . . . O, quietly, quietly,
Do him a favor, a necessary task: take
Him down by the garden, give him the twilight and
Nightfall . . . . . .
hold him . . . .
O tree of life, how long winter-bare?
We are not alone. As birds of passage,
We are not understood. Overtaken and late,
We suddenly wrench ourselves from the coils
And fall into pools of indifference.
Blooming and withering is all the same to us.
And still, somewhere, there are lions
Who, so long as they reign, know no impotence.
But with us, where we finally decide on one thing,
The other choice is always felt. We wear strife
Like a second skin. The lovers cannot always walk,
Arm in arm, along the borders
Of the world they have promised to find and to settle.
For a momentary sign, a reason for
Opposition will be prepared--laboriously;
We notice it because it is so meaningful
To us. We do not know the contour
Of feeling, only what facts it causes.
Who has not sat in fear before the curtain of his own heart?
Up goes the curtain; the scene set for farewells.
Easy to follow. The familar garden,
And swaying softly, there enters his partner, dancing.
Not that one. Enough. And when he joins in so easily,
He is in costume and becomes middle-class
And goes to his kitchen in the apartment.
I do not want these half-filled masks.
I prefer the puppets that are solid. I will
Endure the empty shell and the wire and the
Face that is painted on. Yes, I'm for that.
Then, when the lights go out, when I am told to hush,
Then, when from the stage the emptiness moves over us in a grey breeze,
When none of my ancestors sit alongside of me,
Nor any woman, nor the baby with the wrinkling brown eyes:
I stay. There is always something to see.
Don't I know? You who gave my life
A bitter taste, testing me, Father,
The first sad infusion of my necessity.
I grew up, yet always more trials.
And, occupied with the aftertaste of a strange future,
You tested my furtive glances.
You, my father, who since you have died have often
Been the anguish of my innermost hopes.
And peace, that peace of the dead, you gave up a wealth of
Peace for my small fate, isn't that right?
And her, I knew she loved me for her small,
First love for you, that I always avoided
Because the space within your countenance,
Which I so loved, became a vastness
In which I could not find you. . . . When I am in the mood
To sit before the puppet show, no,
To watch it so closely that my watching
Is in the end rewarded, an angel must appear there as a player
Who raises up the empty shell.
Angel and puppet--then it is really a play.
Then that which we eternally bind inside us
Comes together. Then in our time
Arises the circumference of life itself. Then over
Us and with us the angel plays. See, the dying
Have surely guessed how full of pretense is all that we do here.
All is not simply so. O hours of childhood,
Where the past; and the future was not before us.
We grew freely and sometimes rushed to
Grow up quickly, half the time to please,
The other half for simply growing.
We were delighted with the long time that
We went on our way alone and stood there in that middle place
Between the world and our toys,
That place established as a pure place for beginning.
Who shows a child the way things are?
Who holds him among the stars and puts the measure of all things
In his small hand? Who makes the infant's death
Like a grey bread turning hard or lets it enter
The round mouth like the core of a
Bright red apple? . . . Murder
Is easy to watch. But this: to accept death
In its entirety, even before life has begun
And feel no fury
Tell me, who are these itinerants, these only slightly less
Prone to flight than ourselves; who from early on urgently
Twist us--we whose urgings
Are never settled? But they wring us,
Bend us, stretch us and swing us,
Throw us up and catch us again, as if down
From the shiny air they come
To the carpet worn thin by eternal jumping--
Eternity's forlorn carpet
Laid out there like a sticking plaster as if the foretaste
Of heaven had harmed the earth.
And barely landed,
Upright there and distinct:
Huge crude letters standing there . . . and then, the strongest
Men roll them again for fun, grabbing them again
And again like August the Strong juggling tin plates
At the table.
And amid these--
The rose of the onlookers, her
Buds and blossoms. With these
Stamps, these impressions, received from the
Blossoming dust itself, fertilizing the lack of joy
Once more to bear apparent fruit,
The never conscious, shiny veneer of
Lightly laughing joylessness.
There is the withered and wrinkled strongman;
Now, old, reduced to beating his drum,
Withdrawn into his mighty skin, as if earlier
Two men had lived inside it and one was
Already in the grave. The other survives,
Deaf and sometimes a little crazy in the widowed skin.
But the young one, the one looking like the offspring of a
Bull neck and a nun--taut and erect and full of
Muscles and simple-mindedness.
Hurt as a child as if given pain for a toy,
In her long convalescence.
You, who can fall as fruit falls from trees,
A hundred times a day you fall from the tree of common
Structured motion (a tree that flows in minutes
Through the seasons, like rushing water)--
You fall and sprawl against your grave.
Sometimes, in half a second, your face
Assumes the loving aspect of your seldom tender
Mother. But it is quickly lost,
Absorbed by the surface of your shy
And passive face. . . . And again
The man claps his hands to begin and before the
Clear pain touches you beside your
Beating heart, he feels it burning within him,
His source. And it brings sudden, sought-for
Loving tears to his eyes.
And in spite of it all, blindly,
A smile. . . .
Angel! O take and pluck the small-blossomed herb of healing.
Bring a vase--preserve the bloom. Place it under that, our still
Private joy--in a loving urn
Praise it with a blossom of soaring inscription:
You then, love,
Struck dumb by overwhelming
Joy. Perhaps your extravagance will
Bring you luck
Or over your young firm
Breasts the green shimmering silk
Has you feeling endlessly indulgent, lacking nothing.
Always on the balance point of the swaying scales,
Sitting like the ripened fruit of serenity,
Openly beneath the beam.
Where then is that place I carry in my heart,
Where she is fading away, we are falling away
From each other like the poorly matched animals
Brought to mate;
Where the weights are still heavy;
Where the plates still whirl in vain
On painted sticks. . . .
And suddenly in this troublesome nowhere, suddenly
The unspeakable place, the ungraspable infinitesimal
Metamorphoses change all
Into that empty infinite
Where the endless number goes uncounted.
The squares, a square in Paris, an unending show
Where the model, Madame Lamort,
Slinks and winds the restless ways of the earth
With endless ribbons and newly discovered bows,
Frills, flowers, cockade, plastic fruit--all
Falsely painted--for the cheap
Winter hats of fate.
Angel, there was a square, that we knew nothing of and
There, on an unspeakable carpet, the lovers showed that
It would never be possible,
Their brave high image of passion, their tower of joy,
Their long ladders where there was no ground,
Only their leaning together, trembling--
And could they, surrounded by an audience,
Die uncountable silent deaths,
Would they throw their last spare,
Always hidden and misunderstood,
Ever-guilty coins of fortune to the smiling pair
On the silent carpet?
Fig tree, how long have I loved you
For the blossoms that overwhelm you
And for your placing in the ripe enclosing fruit--
Unannounced--a pure secret?
Like the works of a fountain, your arching branch
Pushes up and out your life's blood.
You leap up fresh from sleep, barely awake,
In the fortune of your sweetest accomplishment,
Like Zeus in the swan. . . .
But we are lazy.
Yes, we boast of our blossoms. And in the overripe interior
Of our endless fruit, we are betrayed.
Few survive the roughness of our handling,
Able to stand and glow in the fullness of the heart.
The temptation to bloom, like a soft night breeze,
Brushes the youth's lips and his eyelids stir.
And then the heroes and, perhaps, those who preceded them,
Those whose earthy death altered the grain of things,
Plunge ahead. Preceded by their laughter,
They go like the train of horses in the simple,
Hollow pictures carved for the victorious king in abandoned Karnak.
The hero and an early death are inseparable. No
Hesitation in his assault. His end is in his being. Constantly,
He embraces it and among unfamiliar constellations
He tramples his endless perils. Few find him here. But
That which we pass over in silence, that suddenly inspired fate,
Sings him into the storm of his roaring world.
I hear of none like him. All at once his dark music
Passes through me in the vibrant air.
Then I happily hide from myself the longing. O if I were . . .
If I were a child and if it still could be so and I sat
Propped in the arms of becoming and read of Samson,
And how his mother bore at first nothing and later
Was he not a hero, already in you, O mother, did
It not begin there, in you, his heroic choice?
Thousands brewed in the womb and wanted to be him.
But listen: He took hold and let go, chose and could.
And when he destroyed the pillars, so it was that he broke out
Of the world of his loved ones, into a narrow world, where
He still could choose and do. O mother of heroes,
Source of the torrent! Your ravines, where crying,
High above the borders of the heart, the maiden fell:
A future offering to your son.
When the hero stormed the abode of love,
Each angel lifted him up, each heart beat for him.
Until finally alone, he stood at the end of your smile--
To strive no more, no more wooing; outgrown the voice,
Your crying nature; you cry with the purity of a bird
When the season lifts him, climbing, almost forgetting
That he is also a creature of sorrow, not merely a solitary heart
That lifts into serenity--the inner heaven. As that bird
Strives, so do you, no less--for that which is still invisible,
That your lover came to know, the quiet in which an answer
Slowly awoke, that just beyond hearing came to life,
The rising passion for a burning lover.
And the springtime--there is no place
Where its tone and timbre are not felt. First each small
Questioning swelling, that in the growing silence
Further silences a consenting day.
Then up the stairs, up the rising tones of the dreamed-of
Temple of becoming. Then the trills, the fountains
Whose rise and fall is all bound up within the rules
Of the game. . . . And before you, the summer.
Not only the mornings of all summers; not only
How you wander through the day begun with a glow;
Not only the days, fragile with blossoms, and above:
The forms of trees, powerful and reassuring; not only
The prayers of these unfolding powers;
Not only the meadows of the evening; not only,
After an afternoon's storm, the breath of clarity;
Not only the approach of sleep, yawning, evenings . . .
But the nights! The high, summer nights,
And the stars, the stars of earth.
Once to be dead and know them forever--
All the stars. Then how, how could you forget?
Listen, there the lovers are calling. She did not come
Alone. . . . From out of shallow graves
Came young women and stood. . . . And how could I confine
Their cries? Those sunk in matter seek
Evermore the earth--your children, once understood,
Familiar things that counted for much.
Do not believe that fate is any more than a poem of childhood;
Often you would catch up with her, breathing
Hard after a happy run, running for nothing, in freedom.
Just being here is wonderful. You know it, lovers, even you
It will seemingly abandon and swallow up--you, in the worst
Alleys of the city, festering, garbage in the
Open. Then each for an hour, perhaps not even
So long, was at one with the multitudes of the present
And, in a barely measurable instant between two waitings, knew
Each other's being. All. Arteries full of it.
Only we forget so easily what the laughing neighbor
Scorned in us and what he envied. Visible
Will we live, where the most visible luck we can
Find is found, where we make it our own.
Beloved, the world is nothing that is not within us. Our
Life is continually overturned. And what is outside us
Grows narrower and narrower. Where the well-built house stood,
Only its memory persists, oblique, belonging fully only
To the thoughtful, as if it stood, well-built still, in the mind.
Distant reservoirs of power drive the spirit of our time, formless
As a spinning impulse, unable to tell one confused temple
From another. This one, the temple of the heart, we provide secretly
With idle wasted moments. Yes, where one endures,
Once an object prayed for, worked for, kneeled for--
Now remains isolate, invisible.
Most of these are uncared for, abandoned, porticoes missing,
Now built within us, with columns and statues enlarged.
Each dull turning of the world disinherits those
Who belong to neither the before nor the after.
For after is so far to go for mankind. But this should not
Confuse; it strengthens our grasp on the
Forms already known. The grasp is man's concern,
Rooted in the midst of fate, in disappointment, in the middle
Of ignorance--where he stands, like being itself, and bows
Stars down to himself out of the havens of heaven.
Angel, I will show you: There!
In your sight, it stands erect at last, one eternally upright.
Columns, pylons, the sphinx, the straining supports of the dome,
Grey remnants of cities vanished or strange.
Is it not numinous? Be amazed, Angel, that we are at all.
O you greater, we are capable of such things as these,
These ruins. My breath is enough for neglected rooms,
These neglected, these spaces of
Ours. (They must be so fearfully large
That in millenia they will never overflow with our feelings.)
But the tower was large, wasn't it? O Angel, was it
So large and still close to you? Chartres was large--and music
Reached still further upwards and climbed beyond us.
But only a lover, oh, alone at night by the window . . .
Does she not reach as far on her knees?
Do not think that this is strife.
Angel, I strove for you once. You never come because my calling
Is always full of departure. You cannot advance against
That kind of light. My call is like an outstretched arm.
And your hand, offered to my grasp
From above, remains before me,
Open, protecting and warning,
Incomprehensible and distant.
Creation sees itself with both eyes
Open. Only our eyes are turned inwards,
Walls of circumvallation,
Against our own free beginning.
What it is like outside, we only know from glimpsing
The faces of animals. As soon as a child is born
We turn and force him so that he sees
All forms inside-out, not the real, that real
That shapes the animal's face--free from death.
Only we see it; free creation has its decline behind it
And before it, only God. And when it goes, it goes
Into eternity, as the fountains go.
We have never, not even for a day,
Looked into the world, into which the flowers
Eternally open. The world always is,
Not our narcissistic nothingness,
But the pure, the open, that one breathes in and out,
Always knowing and desiring. In stillness, children
Lose themselves in this pure air and tremble.
Or someone dies and yet remains.
Near to death one sees death no longer and
Perhaps stares out with huge animal eyes.
Lovers, were not the others, that pretended
To see, standing near you and amazed
When by mistake they peered out from
Behind themselves? . . . But we cannot get
Beyond our little selves and our small world returns.
Creation turns eternally and we see in its turning
The reflection of freedom
That is dark in us; or there, an animal,
Mute, looks out, peaceful through and through.
This is fate: to be opposed
And nothing more
and always opposed.
Were our kind of knowing in the beast,
The knowing that turns us into our other ways,
And his knowing in us,
We would know the turning.
For the beast's being is for her eternal
And ungrasped and without a glance towards her own condition,
Altogether pure, like the passing of the world through her eyes.
And where we see the future, she sees the all
And herself within it, healed forever.
Yet in the warm and waking beast
Trouble and sorrow are inner burdens.
She also bears what often this self of ours
Will overcome--the remembering,
As if it once was that which we strive
To approach, sadly, and the joining
Intolerably tender. Here all is distant
And there all close as breath. After our first home
We find the second cold and drafty.
O holiness, O tiny creation,
Remaining always in the womb that bears her.
O lucky gnats, still jumping into death
Even as they marry. The womb is all.
And see the edgy safety of the bird
Who breath and distance knows from birth,
As if he were the soul of an Etruscan,
Back from death, who has found a room
Lidded o'er with reclining figures.
And how dismayed he is--forced to fly
And torn from out the womb. Frightening
Himself, he flickers through the air, like a crack
Through a china cup. So is the trail of the bat
Through the porcelain of the evening.
And we, the audience, always, everywhere
Turning from all-in-all and never looking out.
It overflows from us. We bring it order.
But our things fall apart.
We sweep up our own debris and fall apart ourselves.
So who was it that turned us inwards, so that we,
And all we make, assume the posture
Of imminent departure? He stands upon the final rise,
From which he sees our spreading lowlands.
He turns and stops and waits.
And here we live and take our leave.
Why when necessity approaches, bringing the appointed time for
Being--like a laurel tree, a little darker than the other
Greenery, with little teeth along the edge of every
Leaf (like smiles in the wind)--then why
Must we be so human and, shirking necessity,
Yearn for necessity?
Oh, not because our luck holds out,
This hasty advantage in the presence of loss.
Not because of curiosity, or for reasons of the heart
(That might have known the laurel.)
But because life here is full and because we seem to need
The familiar, the fading, that is seldom near us.
Approaching us, the most fading, it comes only once,
Only once. Once and no more. And we, also, have but
One time. Never again. But this
One time to be, having been, is not beyond recall.
And we try so hard and want to succeed,
Want to hold it in our simple hands,
In overflowing vision and in silent hearts.
We want it to be. To whom is it given? Best to
Hold it all forever. . . . Then on the other hand,
Oh my, what bears us to the other side? Not contemplation, that is
Here slowly learned and never quite accomplished. Hardly.
Nor the pain. And, of course, not the seriousness of it all
Nor the love that endures. Nor the purity unspeakable.
Beneath the stars, what then? Better left unspoken.
We all know that the wanderer can come down from the foothills
Of the mountain and not bring even a handful of
Earth to our valley, a handful of the unspoken. He brings us
The hard-earned word, pure and blue and yellow like
Gentian blossoms. Are we simply here to say: house,
Bridge, fountain, gate, pot, fruit tree, window--
At best: column, tower . . . to say, don't you know,
Oh, to say how the things in themselves never mean
To be. Isn't the real purpose
Of this silent earth, when it leads the lovers,
To take each consciousness and raise it to delight?
A threshold: what does it mean for two
Lovers to wear down a little, the one old
Threshold of a tower, after all that have trodden it before
And before those to come arrive?
It is the time for speaking; this is its home.
Speak and confess. More than ever the
Objects fall away, inexpressible, because
What they roughly usurp is an action without a picture.
Actions crusted over, that explode of their own accord, as soon
As they outgrow their use and encompass something new.
Our heart is between the hammers,
Like our tongue,
Between the teeth, and they
Remain the boundaries of the heart.
Extol the world to the angel, not the unsayable;
You cannot impress him with exalted feelings. In the universe
As he is able to feel it, you are all but unborn. So show
Him the simple things, those formed by passion and consummation,
How life in our hands and our eyes is to us.
Tell him of the objects. He will stand astonished at
The ropemaker in Rome or the potter beside the Nile.
Show him how fortunate an object can be; how blameless;
How ours; how the ringing song resolves into pure form,
Serves as an object or dies in an object; how happily it escapes
The violin. And these living things, understood
Through their decease, their fading, that you celebrate,
They rely on us, the most fading, for their preservation.
They are desires--formed in hearts hidden even from the sight
of their maker--O eternal!
And in the end we become them.
Earth, is this what you want--to arise unseen
Within us? Is not this your dream:
To be for once invisible? Earth. Invisible.
If metamorphosis is not your intent, then what is?
Earth, love, I want you. Believe me, I require no
More springtimes to convince me. Even one
single spring is too much in the blood.
Nameless, from far away, I have chosen you.
You were always right. And your holiest insight
Is the necessity of death.
See, I love you. Why? Neither childhood nor the future
Diminishes. . . . Infinite being
Rises up in my heart.
That I someday, when bitter insight is no more,
May sing anew, rejoice and exalt with the angels.
That no weak, doubting, or rending string may deny
The clean-striking hammers of my heart.
That my flushed countenance may be
More shining; that the unseen sorrows may
Blossom. O nights, how would you grieve for me, my favorites,
That I did not submit to you and kneel,
Faithless sisters, nor surrender to your
Loosened hair. We are the squanderers of pain.
We look away from each pain, in the waiting sadness,
Hoping it will pass away. Yet they form our winter's
Bower, darkly filling our senses with green, one
Of our internal seasons, but not merely season,
but place, dwelling, defense, foundation, home.
Freely, sadness, how strange are the alleys in the city of pain,
Where in the false silence of small noises drowned by large,
The gilded noise boasts--from the mold of emptiness the outpouring,
The bursting monument.
O, the angel tramples the place where comfort is sold and no trace
Remains, there by the church, of purchases made:
Clean and closed and disappointing as a post office on a Sunday.
Outside wind the borders of the year-end's fair,
The rise and fall of freedom, acrobats and jugglers of passion,
And the metaphorical shooting ranges of painted fortune--
Where a lucky shot connects, luck tumbles out with a tinny sound.
From applause to chance we stagger on.
Each curiosity, each booth courts us,
Beats its drum, cries out. For grown-ups there is still
More to see: how money multiplies, anatomically,
Not just for amusement, but the sexuality of money,
All of it, the whole thing, the process itself--an educational one,
Complete with instructions.
But just across the way,
Beyond the last fence, where the posters for "Deathless" are pasted up,
That bitter beer that seems sweet to the drinker,
As long as there is some fresh diversion to chew over . . .
Right back there, just beyond the fence, you will find it.
Children play and lovers, half-hidden and earnest, embrace
On the meager lawns and dogs do what all dogs do.
Further on wanders a youth perhaps in love with
A young lament. He follows her into a meadow. She
says, "Farther . . . we live there outside. . . ."
Where? And the youth
Follows. He praises her form. The shoulder, the neck, perhaps
She is descended from nobility. But he stops her, turns,
Faces her and winks. . . . What is this? She is a lament.
Only the newly dead, in the first experience
Of timeless serenity, as they are being weaned,
Follow her lovingly. She befriends and
Waits upon maidens. Shows them gently
What she is wearing. The pearls of sorrow and
The fine veil of suffering. She goes silently with the youth.
But there, where live the laments, there in the valley,
One of the older laments takes the youth when he importunes him.
We were, she tells him, once a great family, we lamentations.
Our fathers were miners deep in these mountains. Among men
Sometimes you will find a polished piece of primeval pain
Or the glassy slag of anger from a volcano.
Yes, these were mined by us. Once we were rich.
And she leads him gently through the wide landscape of sorrow,
The pillars of the temple, the ruins of each
Fortress, where the land was wisely ruled
By princes of sorrow. She shows him the tall
Trees of tears and fields of blossoming melancholy
That the living know as gentle foliage.
She shows him the beasts of sadness, grazing--and there
A bird cries, drifting across his vision,
High inscription of sorrow solitary.
Then comes the evening and she takes him to the graves of the elders,
Patriarchal lamentations, the sibyls and guardians.
As night approaches, they walk more softly and soon
The moon rises, that gravestone that watches over all.
Brother to that face on the placid Nile,
the Sphinx, countenance of hidden chambers.
They are amazed by the kingly head, the eternally silent
On the scale of the stars.
Before he understands what he sees, his young
Death is upon him. But as she peers out from behind
The border of the soul she frightens away the owl. And the owl,
Grazing his cheek in a slow full-curved stroke,
Softly within his newly-dead hearing,
Leaves an indescribable pattern there
As if upon an opened page.
And overhead--the stars. New. Stars of sorrow.
She names them slowly in the crisp air, "Here, look--
The Knight, the Staff, and there, that large one is
The Virgin." She points towards the pole star,
"So many: Cradle, Way, the Burning Book, Puppet, Window.
And there, to the south, pure as the palm of a consecrated hand,
The clear, winking M
Known as the Mother."
But the dead must be on their way.
His lament returns him
To the valley's rim,
Where shimmering in the moonlight
Is the clear spring of Joy.
In reverence, she speaks its name, saying,
"Among men, this water bears all before it."
They stand at the foot of the mountain
And there she holds him and she cries.
He climbs alone,
In the mountains of the first sorrows.
And not once were his steps heard
Beyond their soundless fate.
But his steps awoke in us, the eternal dead, a likeness--
See, perhaps the bare hazel among the catkins
Or the rain falling on rich tilth in the spring.
And we, who think on rising greatness,
Felt then the compassion
That almost crushes us
When the fortunate fall.