Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Rilke: Orpheus . Eurydice . Hermes

I've read Rilke's "Orpheus . Eurydice . Hermes" so many times its grown into me as "tendrils of a rosebush into an olive bough." I've never studied it, and I'm grateful in a way to have only read it in translation. I've also never learned to play the cello, my favorite instrument, because I don't want to decode it's mysterious effect on me.

The first time I read it, I physically felt like when you're hit by devastating news: tears swell behind your eyes, and your lips part, surprised by a gasp -- not realizing you'd forgotten to breathe, which is a strange, destitute euphoria.

Orpheus . Eurydice . Hermes

Here was the wondrous mine of souls.
Like silent silver ore they moved
in veins through its darkness. Among roots
the blood welled up that flows to the humans,
seeming as heavy as porphyry in the dark.
Nothing else was red.

There were rocks
and spectral forests. Bridges across emptiness
and that broad gray blind pond
suspended above its distant bottom
like a rainy sky above a landscape.
And between gentle, forbearing meadows,
appeared the pale strip of the single path,
laid out like a long bleaching place.

And up this one path they came.

In front, the slender man in the blue cloak,
who gazed out ahead, silent, impatient.
His steps devoured the path in giant bites,
not bothering to chew; from the folds of his cloak,
his hands hung down heavy and locked shut,
oblivious to the now weightless lyre
which had grown into his left arm
as tendrils of a rosebush into an olive bough.
His senses were as if split in two:
while his gaze, like a dog, ran out ahead,
turned, came back, and again and again, far
and waiting, stood at the next bend, --
his hearing lagged behind like a smell.
At times it seemed to him to reach
back to the sounds of walking of the two others
supposed to be following him this whole ascent.
And then again, it was only his own steps' echoes
and the wind stirring his cloak that were behind him.
But he told himself they were still coming;
said it aloud and heard his tones die away.
They were still coming, it was just that they
walked so terribly quietly. If only he
could turn around just once (if looking back
wouldn't subvert the whole undertaking,
not yet completed), he would have to see them,
those two soft walkers following without a word:

The god of the way and of tidings from afar,
a wide brim above his bright eyes,
his slender wand held out in front,
beating wings at his ankles;
and, entrusted to his left hand: she.

The one so loved that a single lyre
raised more lament than lamenting women ever did;
and that from the lament a world arose in which
everything was there again: woods and valley
and path and village, field and river and animal;
and around this lament-world, just as
around the other earth, a sun
and a starry silent heaven turned,
a lament-heaven of disordered stars -- :
This one so loved.

But now she walked at this god's hand,
her steps impeded by long winding-sheets,
unsure, slowly, without impatience.
She was within herself, great with expectation,
and gave no thought to the man going on ahead
or to the path leading up to life.
She was within herself. And her being dead
filled her like great plenitude.
Like a fruit, with its sweetness and darkness,
was she full with her great death,
so new to her she understood nothing.

She had come into another virginity
and wasn't to be touched; her sex was closed
like a young flower toward evening,
and her hands were by now so unused
to being wed that even the gentle god's
infinitely soft, light, guiding touch
offended her as too intimate.

She was no more the woman of flaxen hair
who sometimes resonated in the poet's songs,
no more the odor and island of the wide bed,
and that man's possession no more.

She was already loosened like long hair
and surrendered like fallen rain
and meted out like a hundred-fold supply.

Already she was root.

And when suddenly, abruptly,
the god tapped her and in a pained voice
said: "He's turned around,"
she did not understand and quietly answered: "Who?"

In the distance, dark before the bright exit,
stood someone whose face
could not be recognized. He stood and saw
how on a strip of the meadow path
with mournful look the god of tidings
silently turned to follow the figure
who already had started back down,
her steps impeded by long winding-sheets,
unsure, slowly without impatience.

tr. Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. We are to discuss Orpheus and Eurydice in my mythology class tomorrow; I'm sure it (you) will make its way into the discussion.