Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes


This was the eerie mine of souls.
Like silent silver-ore
they veined its darkness. Between roots
the blood that flows off into humans welled up,
looking dense as porphyry in the dark.
Otherwise, there was no red.

There were cliffs
and unreal forests. Bridges spanning emptiness
and that huge gray blind pool
hanging above its distant floor
like a stormy sky over a landscape.
And between still gentle fields
a pale strip of road unwound.

They came along this road.

In front the slender man in the blue cloak,
mute, impatient, looking straight ahead.
Without chewing, his footsteps ate the road
in big bites; and both his hands hung
heavy and clenched by the pour of his garment
and forgot all about the light lyre,
become like a part of his left hand,
rose tendrils strung in the limbs of an olive.
His mind like two minds.
While his gaze ran ahead, like a dog,
turned, and always came back from the distance
to wait at the next bend–
his hearing stayed close, like a scent.
At times it seemed to reach all the way back
to the movements of the two others
who ought to be following the whole way up.
And sometimes it seemed there was nothing behind him
but the echo of his own steps, the small wind
made by his cloak. And yet
he told himself: they were coming, once;
said it out loud, heard it die away . . .
They were coming. Only they were two
who moved with terrible stillness. Had he been allowed
to turn around just once (wouldn't that look back
mean the disintegration of this whole work,
still to be accomplished) of course he would have seen them,
two dim figures walking silently behind:

the god of journeys and secret tidings,
shining eyes inside the traveler's hood,
the slender wand held out in front of him,
and wings beating in his ankles;
and his left hand held out to: her.

This woman who was loved so much, that from one lyre
more mourning came than from women in mourning;
that a whole world was made from mourning, where
everything was present once again: forest and valley
and road and village, field, river and animal;
and that around this mourning-world, just as
around the other earth, a sun
and a silent star-filled sky wheeled,
a mourning-sky with displaced constellations–:
this woman who was loved so much . . .

But she walked alone, holding the god's hand,
her footsteps hindered by her long graveclothes,
faltering, gentle, and without impatience.
She was inside herself, like a great hope,
and never thought of the man who walked ahead
or the road that climbed back toward life.
She was inside herself. And her being dead
filled her like tremendous depth.
As a fruit is filled with its sweetness and darkness
she was filled with her big death, still so new
that it hadn't been fathomed.

She found herself in a resurrected
virginity; her sex closed
like a young flower at nightfall.
And her hands were so weaned from marriage
that she suffered from the light
god's endlessly still guiding touch
as from too great an intimacy.

She was no longer the blond woman
who sometimes echoed in the poet's songs,
no longer the fragrance, the island of their wide bed,
and no longer the man's to possess.

She was already loosened like long hair
and surrendered like the rain
and issued like massive provisions.
She was already root.

And when all at once the god stopped
her, and with pain in his voice
spoke the words: he has turned around–,
she couldn't grasp this and quietly said: who?

But far off, in front of the bright door
stood someone whose face
had grown unrecognizable. He just stood and watched,
how on this strip of road through the field
the god of secret tidings, with a heartbroken expression,
silently turned to follow the form
already starting back along the same road,
footsteps hindered by long graveclothes,
faltering, gentle, and without impatience.


                                 German; trans. Franz Wright


Ranier Maria Rilke, German, trans. Franz Wright, The Unknown Rilke: Expanded Edition, Oberlin College Press, 1983.