who has not sat, scared, …

… before his heart’s curtain?

Rilke’s 4th Duino Elegy

O trees of life, O when are you wintering?

We are not unified. We have no instincts

like those of migratory birds. Useless, and late,

we force ourselves, suddenly, onto the wind,

and fall down to an indifferent lake.

We realise flowering and fading together.

And somewhere lions still roam. Never knowing,

as long as they have their splendour, of any weakness.

We, though, while we are intent on one thing, wholly,

feel the loss of some other. Enmity

is our neighbour. Aren’t lovers

always arriving at boundaries, each of the other,

who promised distance, hunting, and home?

And when, for the sketch of a moment,

a contrasting background is carefully prepared

so that we can see it: then this is clear

to us. We do not know the contours

of feeling, only what forms it from outside.

Who has not sat, scared, before his heart’s curtain?

It drew itself up: the scenery was of Departure.

Easy to comprehend. The familiar garden

swaying a little: then the dancer appeared.

Not him. Enough! However lightly he moves

he is in costume, and turns into a citizen,

and goes through the kitchen into his house.

I don’t want these half-completed masks,

rather the Doll. That is complete. I will

suffer its shell, its wire, its face

of mere appearance. Here. I am waiting.

Even if the lights go out, even if someone

says to me: ‘No more’ – , even if emptiness

reaches me as a grey draught of air from the stage,

even if none of my silent forefathers

sits by me any more, not one woman,

not even the boy with the brown, squinting, eyes.

I’ll still be here. One can always watch.

Am I not right? You, to whom life tasted

so bitter, father, tasting mine,

that first clouded infusion of my necessities,

you kept on tasting, as I grew,

and preoccupied by the after-taste

of such a strange future, searched my misted gaze –

you, my father, who since you were dead, have often

been anxious within my innermost hopes,

and giving up calm, the kingdoms of calm

the dead own, for my bit of fate,

am I not right? And you women, am I not right,

who would love me for that small beginning

of love, for you, that I always turned away from,

because the space of your faces changed,

as I loved, into cosmic space,

where you no longer existed……When I feel

like waiting in front of the puppet theatre, no,

rather gazing at it, so intently, that at last,

to balance my gaze, an Angel must come

and take part, dragging the puppets on high.

Angel and Doll: then there’s a play at last.

Then what we endlessly separate,

merely by being, comes together. Then at last

from our seasons here, the orbit

of all change emerges. Over and above us,

then, the Angel plays. See the dying

must realise that what we do here

is nothing, how full of pretext it all is,

nothing in itself. O hours of childhood,

when, behind the images, there was more

than the past, and in front of us was not the future.

We were growing, it’s true, and sometimes urged that

we soon grew up, half for the sake

of those others who had nothing but their grown-up-ness.

And were, yet, on our own, happy

with Timelessness, and stood there,

in the space between world and plaything,

at a point that from first beginnings

had been marked out for pure event.

Who shows a child, just as they are? Who sets it

in its constellation, and gives the measure

of distance into its hand? Who makes a child’s death

out of grey bread, that hardens, – or leaves it

inside its round mouth like the core

of a shining apple? Killers are

easy to grasp. But this: death,

the whole of death, before life,

to hold it so softly, and not live in anger,

cannot be expressed.