O trees of life, how far off is winter?
We’re in disarray. Our minds don’t commune
like those of migratory birds. Left behind and late,
we force ourselves suddenly on winds
and fall, exhausted, on indifferent waters.
Blooming makes us think of fading.
And somewhere out there lions still roam, oblivious,
in all their splendor, to any weakness.
We, though, even when intent on one thing wholly,
already feel the cost exacted by some other. Conflict
is our next of kin. Aren’t lovers always
reaching borders, each in the other,
despite the promise of vastness, royal hunting, home?
Then for an instant’s virtuoso sketch
a ground of contrast is prepared, laboriously,
so we can see it; for they’re very clear
with us. We don’t know our feelings’ contour,
only what shapes it from outside.
Who hasn’t sat anxiously before his heart’s curtain? …
… the dying — surely they
must guess how full of pretext
is all that we achieve here. Nothing
is what it is. O childhood hours,
when behind each shape there was more
than mere past …
Who shows a child just as he is? Who places him
in a constellation and hands him the measure
of distance and interval? Who makes a child’s death
out of gray bread that hardens — or leaves
it in his round mouth like the core
of a beautiful apple? … Murderers are
easily understood. But this: one’s death,
the whole reach of death, even before one’s life is under way —
to hold it gently and not feel anger:
Rainer Maria Rilke
trans. Edward Snow