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Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies [First, Second, and Third] (1912)

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Voices. The voices. Oh, my heart, hear,
as once only The Holy could hear, the huge cry
which raised them up from the depths. Who could believe
that, unheeding, they never once rose from their knees?
Not by far could you bear to hear God's voice. Yet, listen:
borne on the wind, in voices made of the silence,
those who died young endlessly whisper a message.
Wherever you go, in churches of Rome or of Naples,
does not their destiny softly address you?

Or, as that day in Santa Maria Formosa,
a tablet compels your heightened attention.
What do they ask me to do? To wipe out those feelings
of outrage – which hamper their spirit's free flight.

How strange . . . no longer to live upon Earth! . . . Strange
no more to depend upon practices only just learned
nor to expect from roses – nor to expect
from any thing of exceptional wonder – interpretation
of Mankind's future. No longer to live
as we used to, our hands ever frightened. To throw
away the names we were given: toys that have broken.
Strangely – to lose our desire for things we desire.
To see all those things which once stood related
freed of connection – fluttering in space!
And Death is demanding; we have much to atone for
before little by little we begin to taste of eternity.
Yet . . . the living are wrong when they distinguish so clearly:
Angels, it's said, are often unsure
whether they pass among living or dead.
Ever-racing, the current whirls each generation
through both those kingdoms. In both it outsounds them.

In the end, the early-departed need us no longer,
gradually weaned from things of our World
as the babe grows away from the gentle
breasts of its mother. But we? Who have such deep need
of great mysteries, we who rarely progress without mourning
. . . can we do without them?
Does it mean nothing, the myth
in which earliest Music in mourning for Linos
dares to invade desolate wilderness? A young man
not far from immortal, suddenly gone! And forever!
And the shocked emptiness for the first time
resounds with what ravishes, comforts and aids us.

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