04 April 2016

To Rudolf Kassner

What follows is an incomplete draft of a translation of the eighth of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Duino Elegies".

The Eighth Elegy

With all their eyes all creatures see
the Open.  It's only our eyes that
are inward turned and focused on ourselves
like traps, encircling their free exit.
What exists outside, we know it from the beasts'
expressions only; since we hem in
already little kids, and pressure them to see
backwards, their own form, not the Open,
which lies so deep in the sight of beasts.
Free from Death. We alone see him.
The free beast keeps his own demise behind him
and God in front, so that when he walks,
he passes like a fountain, to infinity.
     We never have, not for a single day,
pure space before us, into which
the flowers swell unending.
For us, always more world, and never
Nowhere without the "no": the pure,
unoverseen, which one can breath and know
beyond all limits, without craving. As a child
one might loose himself before it in the quiet,
and be shaken.  Or he dies and is it.
For close to death one ceases to see death
and gazes outward, as if with the profound sight of a beast.
Were it not for others, who block one's sight, lovers
are near to it and marvel... As if by chance it's opened up
to them behind the other... But nothing escapes past him,
and again it becomes his world.
Always turned to face creation, we see in it
only the reflection of the Free, which we darken.
Or that a beast, a dumb one, looks up, quiet through and through.
This is fate: to stand opposed
Always opposed, and nothing else.

If in that certain beast were consciousness like ours,
that beast who draws away from us
down other paths—, his change of course
would make us swerve as well.
But his existence is for him unending,
unbound, without a glance at his condition,
pure, just like his outlook.
And where we see the future, he sees everything,
and in the midst of all, himself, and healed forever.

And yet there is, in the warm and watchful beast
the weight and care of a great melancholy.
For that which often overpowers us grasps at him as well
and always clings — The memory, of when the place
which one pursues was nearer and more faithful,
and its embrace infinitely tender.
Here everything is distance, and there
it was breath.  After his first home,
the second seems ambivalent and windy.
     Oh the blessedness of little animals,
who always stay within the womb from which they sprang;
Oh luck of midges, who hop around within it,
even when they marry: for them the nest is everything.
And see the bird's half-confidence,
who nearly knows