Thursday, 5 June 2014

Orpheus and Eurydice

A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Peter Mullins May/June 2014

A mine-shaft opens into hell              
where what seem veins of silver ore             
are streaks of silent human souls
whose life drained off solidifies
and marks the roots a startling red,               
where pit-props swarm between dark walls
and broken boards span gulfs and voids,
while roofs reflect the great grey pools
as if the rain would never stop.

A fractured mind pulled at a thread
and stretched it out, imagining
a gentle road through pastures green,
on which it then began to walk,
fit, smart, quiet and purposeful,
with eyes fixed firm in front of it,
with heavy hands tucked tight away,
with strides which gobbled up the path,
quite unaware how the laments
which flowered from its singing-grief
were now so grafted into it
that it was like an olive tree
smothered by a wild briar.

One shard of mind dashed on ahead,
ran fast around, looped back again,
one quivered still to catch a sense
of others who might be behind,
half thought it did, but caught no hint
above the shaking of its coat,
the panting from its charging round;
it told itself that they were there,
said it loudly, heard the words die
away into a stilling fear
that to look round would snap the thread –
the very path they walked upon –
and let the shaft re-swallow them.

There ought to be no mystery:
there ought to be a messenger,
a shining or a hooded one,
come swift as if on feet with wings,
a magic wand in his right hand
and in his left there should be – she,

she who called out more singing-grief
than any woman ever had,
a wailing-world made from mourning
with routes and contours cut by grief,
whose habitations of lament
lay under a lament-full sky
with suns, stars and constellations
sent off course by lamentations;
so greatly was she loved and sung.

But she walks alone and elsewhere,
her steps caught on her graveclothes’ hem,
stumbling without irritation,
great with the hope carried in her
not of his path, not in his song,
but, replete with sweet dark death-fruit,
an abundance of being dead,
an unfathomable newness -
and made innocent once again
(the bud which opened up to him
drawn tight like petals in the night,
even the touch of a God would
now be a painful intrusion).

The songs were not about her now,
her scent, her bed, who’s possession:
she was the flow of long loosed hair,
the emptying of rain-full cloud,
the largesse of gift all given.

She was firmly rooted there -
as she had been in the moments
when the carer tried to stop her
with voice catching as she told her
he was standing at the exit
looking for her farewell greeting
and her reply was to say - ‘Who?’,
while he, unrecognised, saw her,
holding hands with the mystery,
walking away without message,
her steps caught on her graveclothes’ hem,
stumbling without irritation.  

1 comment:

Joy Davis said...

Oh my...mighty powerful this Peter.