Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992.
Translated by Stephen MitchellThe First Elegy
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take into our vision;
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at our faces.
Whom would it not remain for–that longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence,
Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don’t you know yet?
Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?
Weren’t you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?
(Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
But when you feel longing, sing of women in love; for their famous passion is still not immortal.
Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising; remember: the hero lives on;
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back into herself,
Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough
Shouldn’t this most ancient of sufferings finally grow more fruitful for us?
Isn’t it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and,
For there is no place where we can remain.
Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:
Not that you could endure God’s voice–far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn’t their fate, whenever you stepped into a church in Naples or Rome,
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance of injustice about their death–
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
Strange to no longer desire one’s desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.
Though the living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which
Angels (they say) don’t know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,
In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
But we, who do need such great mysteries,
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
The Second Elegy
Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,
Where are the days of Tobias, when one of you, veiling his radiance,
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us:
Who are you?
Early successes, Creation’s pampered favorites,
But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we breathe ourselves out and away;
Though someone may tell us: “Yes, you’ve entered my bloodstream, the room,
And those who are beautiful, oh who can retain them?
Appearance ceaselessly rises in their face, and is gone.
Like dew from the morning grass, what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish of hot food.
O smile, where are you going?
O upturned glance: new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
Does the infinite space we dissolve into, taste of us then?
Do the angels really reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves,
Are we mixed in with their features even as slightly as that vague look
They do not notice it (how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.
Lovers, if they knew how, might utter strange, marvelous words in the night air.
For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you about us.
You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have become aware of each other,
That gives me a slight sensation.
But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other’s passion grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
“No more . . . “; you who beneath his hands swell with abundance,
I am asking you about us.
I know, you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves,
So you promise eternity, almost, from the embrace.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of the first glances,
When you lift yourselves up to each other’s mouth and your lips join,
Weren’t you astonished by the caution of human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Wasn’t love and departure placed so gently on shoulders
Remember the hands, how weightlessly they rest, though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: “We can go this far,
But that is the gods’ affair.”
If only we too could discover a pure, contained, human place,
Four our own heart always exceeds us, as theirs did.
And we can no longer follow it,