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9th Duino Elegy

9th Duino Elegy

Why, if it's possible to come into existence
as laurel, say, a little darker green
than other trees, with ripples edging each
leaf (like a wind, smiling): why then
do we have to be human, and keep running from the fate
we are made for and long for?

Oh, not because of Happiness --
that fleeting gift before the loss begins.
Not from curiosity, or to exercise the heart,
which the laurel could do too....

But because simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely --
us, the most vanishing of all. Once
for each, only once. Once and no more.
And we, too: just once. Never again. But
to have lived this once, even if only this once,
to have been of earth -- that cannot be taken from us.



And so a hunger drives us.
We want to contain it in our naked hands,
our brimming senses, our speechless hearts.
We want to become it, or to offer it -- but to whom?
We would hold it forever....But, after all,
what can we keep? Not the beholding.
so slow to learn. Not anything that has happened here.
Nothing. There are the hurts. And, always, the hardships.
And there's the long knowing of love -- all of it
unsayable. Later, amidst the stars, we will see:
these are better unsaid. The mountain wanderer
does not carry back into the valley a handful of earth --
that is unsayable -- but a word, simple and clean:
the blue and yellow gentian. Could we be here, then,
in order to say
House
Bridge
Fountain
Gate
Pitcher
Apple tree
Window

or, for loftier things -- Pillar, Tower --
But to say them, in fact-- oh, to utter them
as even the things never thought themselves to be.

Is it not the secret strategem
of our vanishing Earth
to have lovers taste her own delight
when she drives them into each other's arms?
Are we here to say Threshhold? the little used threshhold
that lovers step over as they come so lightly
after the ancestors and before the future ones.

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.
Speak and make known: more and more
the things we could experience
are lost to us, replaced
by mindless doing.

Between hammers pounding,
our heart exists, like the tongue
between the teeth -- which still,
however, does the praising.

Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the realm where he feels feelings, you are a beginner.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
Tell him of things. He will stand still in astonishment,
the way you stood by the ropemaker in Rome
or beside the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
as even a lament takes clear form,
becomes a thing, can die as a thing.
while the music, blessing it, fades.

And the things, which, even as they live, pass on --
understand that we praise them. Transient, they are trusting us
to preserve them -- us, the most transient of all.
As if they wanted our hearts to transform them
into -- o endlessly -- into us. Whatever we are.

Earth, isnšt this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
therešs nothing outside us to see?
What, if not this transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want that too. Believe me, no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over-- even one flower
is almost too much. Before I was named I was yours.
From the beginning you have always held the measure,
and, for something to count on, you give us death.

See, I live. On what?
Childhood and future are equally present..
Sheer abundance of being
floods my heart.

Translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows