Come, you last thing. I recognize you,
unholy agony in the body's weave.
Just as I burned in my mind, now I burn in you.
The wood has long resisted, holding back
from the flames you ignite—
now I feed you and blaze in you.
In the grip of your rage my natural mildness
becomes a raging hell, unlike anything.
Quite pure, free of all thoughts,
I climb the twisted pyre of future suffering,
knowing now that there is nothing I can purchase
for the comfort of this heart. All its learnings now are silent.
Is it still I who burn beyond recognition?
I will not drag memories inside.
Oh Life, Life: to be outside.
I am in flames. No one who knows me.
My only advice for you is this. Go within yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs, and there at its source you'll find the answer to the question of whether you must write. Accept this answer, just as you hear it, without hesitation. It may be revealed that you are called to be an artist. Then take this lot upon you, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without asking for any external reward. For the creative artist must be a world for himself, and find everything within himself—and in nature, to which he is devoted.
Is there anything that can take from you the hope of being someday in the God you are helping to create in each attentive act of love?
Please celebrate this Christmas with the earnest faith that He may need this very anguish of yours in order to begin. These very days that are such a trial for you may well be the time when everything in you is working at Him, as once you so urgently did as a child. Be patient and without resentment, and know that the least we can do is to make His Becoming no more difficult than Earth makes it for spring when it wants to arrive. Be comforted and glad.
. . . And to think of all these things is still not enough. One must remember many nights of love, of which none was like another. One must remember the cries of women in labor and the pale, distracted sleep of those who have just given birth and begin to close again. But one must also have been with the dying and sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful sounds of life. And it is still not enough to have memories: one must be able to forget them when they crowd the mind and one must have the immense patience to wait until they come again. For it is not the memories themselves. Only when they become our blood, our glance, our gesture, nameless and indistinguishable from who we are only then can it happen that in a very rare hour the first word of a poem rises from their midst and goes forth.
Poems don't come to much when they are written too soon. One should wait and gather the feeling and flavors of a whole life, and a long life if possible, and then, just at the end, one might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people suppose, emotions—those come easily and quickly enough. They are experiences.
For the sake of one line of poetry, one must see many cities, people, and things. One must be acquainted with animals and feel how the birds fly, and know the gestures of small flowers opening at the first light. One must be able to think back on paths taken through unknown places, on unanticipated meetings, and on farewells one had long seen coming, on days of childhood not yet understood; on parents one disappointed when they offered some pleasure one could not grasp (it was a pleasure suited to another); on childhood illnesses that came on so strangely, altering everything; on days in closed and quiet rooms and on mornings by the sea; on the sea itself, on all seas; on night journeys that rose and flew with the stars....
The Elegies and The Sonnets support each other reciprocally, and I see it as an endless blessing that I, with the same breath, was able to fill both sails: the small, rust-colored sail of the sonnets and the great white canvas of the Elegies.
Two inner experiences were necessary for the creation of these books (The Sonnets to Orpheus and The Duino Elegies). One is the increasingly conscious decision to hold life open to death. The other is the spiritual imperative to present, in this wider context, the transformations of love that are not possible in a narrower circle where Death is simply excluded as The Other.
Dear friend, now at last I can breathe. Everything is doable now. For this was huge beyond imagining. In these days and nights I bellowed as I did back then at Duino. But even after that struggle I did not dream that such a storm of heart and spirit could come over me. That I survived it! That I survived it.
Enough. It is here.
I went outside in the cold moonlight and I caressed this little chateau Muzot as though it were a living thing—the old walls that harbored me—just as Duino once did.
Could there be a solitude that had no value to it? There is only one solitude; it is vast and hard to bear. How often do we gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial and cheap, or trade it for the appearance of agreement, however small, with the first person who comes along. But those may be the very moments when your solitude can grow; its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But don't be confused. All that is needed is the capacity to be alone with yourself, to go into yourself and meet no one for hours—that is what you need to achieve. To be alone, the way you were as a child, when the grown-ups walked around so busy and distracted by matters that seemed important because they were beyond your comprehension.
The silence must be immense where you are living right now, immense enough to allow such tumult of sound and motion. And if you think that in the ocean's vastness there exists not only the present moment but reverberations of primordial harmonies, then you can be patient and trust the great and indelible solitude at work in you. This will be a nameless influence in all that lies ahead for you to experience and accomplish, rather as if the blood of our ancestors moves in us and combines with ours in the unique, unrepeatable being that at every turn of our life we are.
All will come again into its strength:
the fields undivided, the waters undammed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong
and varied as the land.
And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
The experience of loving, that now disappoints so many, can actually change and be transformed from the ground up into the building of a relationship between two human beings, not just a man and a woman. And this more authentic love will be evident in the utterly considerate, gentle, and clear manner of its binding and releasing. It will resemble what we now struggle to prepare: the love that consists of two solitudes which border, protect, and greet each other.
I would describe myself
like a landscape I've studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I'm coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother's face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.
Haven't you been moved, in those early Greek carvings,
by the care you see in human gesture?
Weren't love and loss so gently laid upon the shoulders
that people seemed made of different stuff
than in our day?
Think of the hands, how they touch without pressure,
although there is strength in the torso.
These figures seem to know,
"We have come this far.
This is given to us, to touch
each other in this way.
The gods may lean on us more strongly,
but it is their nature."
In the fading forest a bird call sounds.
How out of place in a fading forest.
And yet the bird call roundly rests
in this moment that it made,
as wide as the sky above the fading forest.
All things sound together in that cry:
the whole land seems to lie within it,
the great wind seems to rest within it,
and the moment, which wants to persist,
stops, still, as if knowing things
arising from that cry
that you would have to die to know.
The blind man who stands on the bridge
is a milestone marking the edge of the nameless.
He is the unchanging thing
around which the heavens turn,
the motionless midpoint of the stars.
All else is hurry and display.
He is the upright and unmoving one
set down amidst entangled paths.
In a heedless generation
he is a dark doorway to the underworld.
Oh tall tree of our knowing, shedding its leaves:
It's a matter now of facing the preponderance
of sky appearing through its branches.
Filled by summer, it seemed deep and thick,
filling our minds, too, so comfortably.
Now its whole interior is an avenue of stars.
And the stars do not know us.
I am most struck by the small paintings you sent. I experience in them your old form, in miniature, where vast inner space is mirrored, where even winter and snow (and we have our share of both!) bespeak huge distance and wandering, the freshness and joy of pure undiluted youth.
And we: always and everywhere spectators,
turned not toward the Open
but to the stuff of our lives.
It downs us. We set it in order.
It falls apart. We order it again
and fall apart ourselves.
Who has turned us around like this?
Whatever we do, we are in the posture
of one who is about to depart.
Like a person lingering
for a moment on the last hill
where he can see his whole valley—
that is how we live, forever
taking our leave.
Summer was like your house: you know
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.
Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.
It was not always with me. It would come and go.
I wanted to hold it. The wine held it for me.
What it was, I no longer know.
But I was the one being held, held this way and that,
until I could do nothing else.
Now I am trapped in his game,
dealt out with contempt, to be lost
over and over again to brutish death.
Each time death wins, he uses me,
a filthy card, to scratch his grey scabs,
before tossing me on the dung heap.
The rich and the happy can choose to keep silent,
no need to bid for attention.
But the desperate must reveal themselves,
must say: I am blind
or: I am going blind
or: It's not good for me here on Earth
or: My child is sick
or: I am not holding it together...
But when is that really enough?
So, lest people pass them by like objects,
sometimes they sing.