Monday, December 12, 2011

"Infinitely Calm"

My high-school Bengali teacher had first referred to Rilke's The Sonnets to Orpheus while teaching us a Bengali poem. Unable to find any collection by the poet in Siliguri, I had read some random poems by Rainer Maria Rilke while in college. Recently I discovered a whole bottom shelf at the MMB library dedicated to Rilke's works, and to my delight, most of them were beautiful bilingual editions. I have since been borrowing them and reading them in between other serious readings, moving slowly from the German words to the English translations.

I'm sharing some poems which I liked best, here. They have been taken from the 1906 edition of Das Buch der Bilder, and translated into The Book of Images by Edward Snow in 1991.

I

THE SONG OF THE STATUE


Who is there who so loves me, that he
will throw away his own dear life?
If someone will die for me in the ocean,
I will be brought back from stone
into life, into life redeemed.


How I long for blood's rushing;
stone is so still.
I dream of life: life is good.
Has no one the courage
through which I might awaken?


And if I once more find myself in life,
given everything most golden,--
_________________________________
then I will weep
alone, weep for my stone.
What help will my blood be, when it ripens like wine?
It cannot scream out of the ocean
he who loved me most.


II

TO SAY BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP

I would like to sing someone to sleep,
to sit beside someone and be there.
I would like to rock you and sing softly
and go with you to and from sleep.
I would like to be the one in the house
who knew: The night was cold.
And I would like to listen in and listen out
into you, into the world, into the woods.
The clock shouts to one another striking,
and no one sees to the bottom of time.
And down below one last, strange man walks by
and rouses a strange dog.
And after that comes silence.
I have laid my eyes upon you wide;
and they hold you gently and let you go
when something stirs in the dark.


III

LAMENT

How everything is far away
and long deceased.
I think now, that the star
whose brightness reached me
has been dead for a thousand years.
I think now, that in the boat 
which slipped past
I heard something fearful being said.
Inside the house a clock
just struck...
Inside what house?...
I would like to step out of my heart's door
and be under the great sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely one of all those stars
must still exist.
I think now, that I know
which one alone
has lasted,--
which one like a white city
stands at its light's end in the sky...


IV

SOLITUDE

Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea toward evening;
from plains, which are distant and remote,
it goes to the sky, which always has it.
And only then it falls from the sky on the city.


It rains down in the in-between hours,
when all the crooked streets turn toward morning,
and when the bodies, which found nothing,
leave each other feeling sad and disappointed;
and when the people, who hate each other,
have to sleep together in one bed;


then solitude flows with the rivers...








V

MEMORY

And you wait, await the one thing
that will infinitely increase your life;
the gigantic, the stupendous,
the awakening of stones,
depths turned round toward you.


The volumes in brown and gold
flicker dimly on the bookshelves;
and you think of lands traveled through,
of paintings, of the garments
of women found and lost.


And then all at once you know: that was it.
You rise, and there stands before you
the fear and prayer and shape
of a vanished year.


VI

EVENING

Slowly the evening puts on the garments
held for it by a rim of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands divide from you,
one going heavenward, one that falls;


and leave you, to neither quite belonging,
not quite so dark as the house sunk in silence,
not quite so surely pledging the eternal
as that which grows star each night and climbs--


and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening,
so that it, now bound in and now embracing,
grows alternatively stone in you and star.


VII

ENTRANCE

Whoever you are: in the evening step out
of your room, where you know everything;
yours is the last house before the far-off;
whoever you are.
With your eyes, which in their weariness
barely free themselves from the worn-out threshold,
you lift very slowly one black tree
and place it against the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world. And it is huge
and like a word which grows ripe in silence.
And as your will seizes on its meaning,
tenderly your eyes let it go...


VIII

CHILDHOOD

School's long anxiety with time slips past
with waiting, with endless dreary things.
O solitude, O heavy spending on and on of time...
And then outside: the streets flash and ring
and on the squares the fountains leap 
and in the gardens all the world grows wide.--
And to go through it in one's small suit,
so unlike how the others go and used to go--;
O wondrous time, O spending on and on of time,
O solitude.


And to look far off into it all:
men and women; men, more men, women
and then children, who are different and bright;
and here a house and now and then a dog
and soundless terror changing back and forth with trust--;
O sadness without reason, O dream, O dread,
O depth without ground.


And so to play: ball and ring and hoops
in a garden that keeps softly fading,
and to brush sometimes against the grownups
blindly and wildly in the haste of tag,
but at evening quietly with small stiff
steps to walk back home, your hand firmly held--;
O ever more escaping grasp of things,
O weight, O fear.


And for hours at the huge gray pond
to kneel entranced with a small sailboat;
to forget it, because yet other, similar
and more beautiful sails glide through the circles,
and to have to think about the small pale
face that sinking gazed out of the pond--:
O childhood, O likeness gliding off...
To where? To where?


It is to Rilke that I turn, on this unusually foggy morning. To me he remains the poet of memory, of childhood, of leave-taking and looking back; sometimes the poet of night and its vastnesses, the poet of human separations, the poet of thresholds and silences, and especially of solitude in its endless inflections. His play of images (and so rightly brought about in this book on images) is a way of thinking, and the small cluster of motifs yield paradoxes of life viewed and grasped, possessed and relinquished, lived and imagined, sacrificed and transcended, undergone and belatedly understood. As he himself said in a letter, "I fear in myself only those contradictions with a tendency towards reconciliation..."


Picture: Marc Chagall's Le Violoniste Bleu

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