Rilke’s First Duino Elegy

Sharing with you my fine friends, a piece of work that I really enjoy for a myriad of reasons.  The words of which speak for themselves in all their transcendental beauty, enjoy.


The First Elegy


Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic

Orders? And even if one were to suddenly

take me to its heart, I would vanish into its

stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but

the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,

and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains

to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.

And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry

of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can

we make use of? Not Angels: not men,

and the resourceful creatures see clearly

that we are not really at home

in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains

some tree on a slope, that we can see

again each day: there remains to us yesterday’s street,

and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit

that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.

Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space

wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,

the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart

with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?

Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.

Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms

to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds

will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.


Yes, the Spring-times needed you deeply. Many a star

must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave

lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked

past an open window, a violin

gave of itself. All this was their mission.

But could you handle it? Were you not always,

still, distracted by expectation, as if all you experienced,

like a Beloved, came near to you? (Where could you contain her,

with all the vast strange thoughts in you

going in and out, and often staying the night.)

But if you are yearning, then sing the lovers: for long

their notorious feelings have not been immortal enough.

Those, you almost envied them, the forsaken, that you

found as loving as those who were satisfied. Begin,

always as new, the unattainable praising:

think: the hero prolongs himself, even his falling

was only a pretext for being, his latest rebirth.

But lovers are taken back by exhausted Nature

into herself, as if there were not the power

to make them again. Have you remembered

Gastara Stampa sufficiently yet, that any girl,

whose lover has gone, might feel from that

intenser example of love: ‘Could I only become like her?’

Should not these ancient sufferings be finally

fruitful for us? Isn’t it time that, loving,

we freed ourselves from the beloved, and, trembling, endured

as the arrow endures the bow, so as to be, in its flight,

something more than itself? For staying is nowhere.


Voices, voices. Hear then, my heart, as only

saints have heard: so that the mighty call

raised them from the earth: they, though, knelt on

impossibly and paid no attention:

such was their listening. Not that you could withstand

God’s voice: far from it. But listen to the breath,

the unbroken message that creates itself from the silence.

It rushes towards you now, from those youthfully dead.

Whenever you entered, didn’t their fate speak to you,

quietly, in churches in Naples or Rome?

Or else an inscription exaltedly impressed itself on you,

as lately the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa

What do they will of me? That I should gently remove

the semblance of injustice, that slightly, at times,

hinders their spirits from a pure moving-on.


It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,

to no longer practice customs barely acquired,

not to give a meaning of human futurity

to roses, and other expressly promising things:

no longer to be what one was in endlessly anxious hands,

and to set aside even one’s own

proper name like a broken plaything.

Strange: not to go on wishing one’s wishes. Strange

to see all that was once in place, floating

so loosely in space. And it’s hard being dead,

and full of retrieval, before one gradually feels

a little eternity. Though the living

all make the error of drawing too sharp a distinction.

Angels (they say) would often not know whether

they moved among living or dead. The eternal current

sweeps all the ages, within it, through both the spheres,

forever, and resounds above them in both.


Finally they have no more need of us, the early-departed,

weaned gently from earthly things, as one outgrows

the mother’s mild breast. But we, needing

such great secrets, for whom sadness is often

the source of a blessed progress, could we exist without them?

Is it a meaningless story how once, in the grieving for Linos

first music ventured to penetrate arid rigidity,

so that, in startled space, which an almost godlike youth

suddenly left forever, the emptiness first felt

the quivering that now enraptures us, and comforts, and helps.


28 Replies to “Rilke’s First Duino Elegy”

  1. Ah, Rilke – a soothing balm in a turbulent world. Thank you for reminding me that this is one poet at least whom I can ‘get’ 🙂


  2. Thank-you. I have never read Rilke’s poetry before, I don’t know why. Probably the same reason why I haven’t read much foreign language literature in general. I have read some badly translated work in the past and I often have doubts whether I am reading the writer’s words or the translator’s idea of what the writer means. Hence my shying away from translations.


    1. I totally understand that, I remember looking on Amazon for some Russian book, which one I can’t remember but they mixed all the reviews from various translations onto one page so it became a mine field trying to work out which was good, luckily they have that bit telling you what the reviewed copy was but it takes ages sifting them out. The Rilke translation I have was a good one, well it moved me so I deem it so. The idea of discovering and paying close attention to different translations is fascinating but sadly too time consuming for me,

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Rilke seems a lot more popular in the US than over here oddly, I am hoping to get my hands on more as well, his Letters to a Young Poet is also a worthy read.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This was my admittedly lazy post, when the reviews were taking a long time to finish off but it turned out well to share one of y favourite poems. I am glad you like it.


  3. Oh man! You weren’t kidding when you told me you had some poetry up your sleeve. I have been offline for a bit and am finally catching up with reading your posts. I really love this poem. I remember furiously highlighting my copy of The Duino Elegies when I first read it. I should brush off my copy over the holidays!


    1. Welcome back, sorry for the avalanche of posts! I don’t do things by half when I put my mind to it and thankfully I can now cross off seven posts in seven days….never again. The Rilke post was my one really lazy effort but The Duino Elegies is a wonderful read.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha I sometimes have trouble posting 7 times in 7 weeks! I am so impressed! I must admit I haven’t read a ton of Rilke, only his Duino Elegies & Letters to a Young Poet. What are you going to tackle next?

        Liked by 1 person

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