Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rilke on the Unsayable and Sayable

From the tenth of the Duino Elegies as translated by David Young:

"Ah, but what can we take across to the other realm when we leave?
Not our perception learned here so slowly and nothing
that's happened here. Not one thing. So that means we take pain.
Take, above all the heaviness of existing, take the long
experience of love, take truly unsayable things.
But later under the stars why bother?
They are better at the unsayable. After all, isn't what
the wanderer brings back from the mountain slopes to the valley
not a handful of earth that no one could say but rather a word
hard-won, pure, the yellow and blue gentian?
Are we on this earth to say: House, Bridge,
Fountain, Jug, Gate, Fruit-tree, Window -
at best: Column... Tower...?
but to say these words you understand with an intensity
the things themselves never dreamed they'd express. Isn't the earth's
hidden strategy when she so slyly urges two lovers on
that each and everything should be transformed by the delight
of sharing their feelings? Threshold:
what it means to two lovers that they too
should be wearing down an old doorsill a bit more
after the many before them and before
the many to come ... lightly.
Here is the time for the sayable, here is its home.
Speak, bear witness. More than ever things fall away from us
livable things and what crowds them out and replaces them
is an event for which there's no image. An event
under crusts that will tear open easily
just as soon as it outgrows them and its interests
call for new limits. Between the hammer strokes our hearts survive
like the tongue that between the teeth and in spite of everything
goes on praising.

Praise the world to the angel, not the unsayable,
you can't impress him with sumptuous feelings - in the universe
where he feels things so fully you're just a novice.
Show him, then, some simple thing shaped by its passage
through generations that lives as a belonging near the hand, in the gaze."

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