Sunday, 10 April 2016 at 19:y
Here are three recycled versions of poems from Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke(1875-1926). It’s something of a shock to realise that these must’ve been written the best part of twenty-five years ago after I’d spent a few months working in Germany. These poems appeared in a chapbook Strange Tongues(1994) which consisted mainly of translations and poems about language. The first also appeared in the Forward Prize anthology 1996.
A God Perhaps
“Ein Gott vermags”, Sonnets to Orpheus I.3
A god perhaps. But it’s not that simple
for a man to follow himself through guitar strings.
His mind is split. Contradictory strivings
are his heart’s paths. At his crossroads is no temple.
Song, you teach us, it’s not about desire,
not about asking for what can never be asked.
Song is being. For a god that’s an easy task.
But when are we live? When does he trip the wire
that turns the earth and stars towards our being?
It’s not enough, young one, that you love, that voice
bursts through, blooms upon your lips. Try remembering
to forget. It means nothing, whatever you’ve sung
so far. Real singing – the truth – is another breath.
Breath of nothing. Gust of god. The wind’s lungs.
He Needs No Gravestone
“Errichtet keinen Denkstein”, Sonnets to Orpheus I. 5
He needs no gravestone. The rose’s
yearly bloom becomes him best.
This is him. his metamorphosis
through this or that’s an endless quest
for himself: Orpheus. No other name. His song
echoes through all art. He comes, he goes
through everything. Whether he stays as long
or as briefly as the petals on this rose,
it has to be enough. He also fears
to lose this world. But he cannot stay.
His words go beyond and he disappears.
His wrists are not tied by humming strings.
You will not find him now. He, too, must obey.
And this is how – by overstepping everything.
Be Ahead of all Parting
“Sei allem Abschied voran”, Sonnets to Orpheus II.13.
Be ahead of all parting, as though it were
already behind you, like the winter just gone.
Know that, among these winters, is one
so endless that the heart, unsheltered, must out-winter.
Be forever dead in Eurydike. – Yet rise and sing.
For it is praiseworthy to be raised proud.
Here, in our entropic realms, be loud
like humming crystal that, even as it shatters, rings.
Be – and yet still know Unbeing, the void,
the empty cavern in which you first heard
yourself echo. Just this once, fill it with your shout.
To the sum of all the second-hand, tinny
and worn-out things on Nature’s inventory,
joyfully add yourself. Then wipe the total out.