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The Second Elegy

Written by: Rainer Maria Rilke | Biography
 | Quotes (35) |
Every angel is terrifying. And yet alas
I invoked you almost deadly birds of the soul
knowing about you. Where are the days of Tobias
when one of you veiling his radiance stood at the front door  
slightly disguised for the journey no longer appalling;
(a young man like the one who curiously peeked through the window).
But if the archangel now perilous from behind the stars
took even one step down toward us: our own heart beating
higher and higher would bear us to death. Who are you?

Early successes Creation's pampered favorites
mountain-ranges peaks growing red in the dawn
of all Beginning -pollen of the flowering godhead
joints of pure light corridors stairways thrones
space formed from essence shields made of ecstasy storms
of emotion whirled into rapture and suddenly alone:
mirrors which scoop up the beauty that has streamed from their face
and gather it back into themselves entire.

But we when moved by deep feeling evaporate; we
breathe ourselves out and away; from moment to moment
our emotion grows fainter like a perfume. Though someone may tell us:
Yes, you've entered my bloodstream, the room, the whole springtime
is filled with you¡­ -what does it matter? he can't contain us
we vanish inside him and around him. And those who are beautiful
oh who can retain them? Appearance ceaselessly rises
in their face and is gone. Like dew from the morning grass
what is ours floats into the air like steam from a dish
of hot food. O smile where are you going? O upturned glance:
new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart¡­
alas but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into taste of us then? Do the angels really
reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves or
sometimes as if by an oversight is there a trace
of our essence in it as well? Are we mixed in with their
features even as slightly as that vague look
in the faces of pregnant women? They do not notice it
(how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.

Lovers if they knew how might utter strange marvelous
Words in the night air. For it seems that everything
hides us. Look: trees do exist; the houses
that we live in still stand. We alone
fly past all things as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us half
out of shame perhaps half as unutterable hope.

Lovers gratified in each other I am asking you
about us. You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look sometimes I find that my hands have become aware
of each other or that my time-worn face
shelters itself inside them. That gives me a slight
sensation. But who would dare to exist just for that?
You though who in the other's passion
grow until overwhelmed he begs you:
No more¡­ ; you who beneath his hands
swell with abundance like autumn grapes;
you who may disappear because the other has wholly
emerged: I am asking you about us. I know
you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves
because the place you so tenderly cover
does not vanish; because underneath it 
you feel pure duration. So you promise eternity almost
from the embrace. And yet when you have survived
the terror of the first glances the longing at the window
and the first walk together once only through the garden:
lovers are you the same? When you lift yourselves up
to each other's mouth and your lips join drink against drink:
oh how strangely each drinker seeps away from his action.

Weren't you astonished by the caution of human gestures
on Attic gravestones? Wasn't love and departure
placed so gently on shoulders that is seemed to be made
of a different substance than in our world? Remember the hands
how weightlessly they rest though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: "We can go this far
This is ours to touch one another this lightly; the gods
Can press down harder upon us. But that is the gods' affair."

If only we too could discover a pure contained
human place our own strip of fruit-bearing soil
between river and rock. For our own heart always exceeds us
as theirs did. And we can no longer follow it gazing
into images that soothe it into the godlike bodies
where measured more greatly if achieves a greater repose.



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