Duino Elegy No. 8

A translation of the first 34 lines of Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Eighth Elegy”.

Dedicated to Rudolph Kassner

With wholly open eyes a creature sees
the Open. Our eyes alone are as if
turned about and wholly ranged about
as traps that shut its clear way out off.
We sense what lies outside from animal
countenance alone; newborns even
we turn about and force them on their backs
see artifice and not the Open, set
deep within the animal. Free of death.
We alone see death; the free animal
has its passing always behind it, God
before, and when it draws near it does so
as springs draw water, everlastingly.

We never have – not for one single day –
before us that pure space into which bloom
flowers, endlessly. It is always world
and never nowhere without No, the pure
and unobserved, breathed and known unending,
undesired. In childhood, in the quiet,
we lose ourselves to it and tremble.
Or we die and, in death, become it.
For close to death we see death no more
and stare beyond, with wide animal eyes perhaps.
Lovers, were it not for the other who
obstructs their eyes, are near to it, in awe.
Behind the other, as if by chance,
there opens up… But beyond each other
they cannot reach and again for them it’s world.
Forever turned towards creation, we see
upon it only the reflected free
we shadow. Or that an animal
dumbly look up and quietly through us quite.
This is our fate: separation and
nothing but and always separation.