A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

When A Happy Thing Falls

But suppose the endlessly dead were to wake in us some emblem:
they might point to the catkins hanging
from the empty hazel trees, or direct us to the rain
descending on black earth in early spring. —

And we, who always think of happiness
rising, would feel the emotion
that almost baffles us
when a happy thing falls.

RILKE Duino Elegies: The Tenth Elegy (Translated by EDWARD SNOW)

(Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the pictures) 


Ruth Mowry said...

Rilke works magic the way he turns things on their heads and inside out, in ways that would seem inexpressible. But poetry does this, makes connections between unlike things. Something alive, new and happy, and something dying.

I like the Crucefix translation here of the first line a bit better ...

But if they – these endlessly dead – awakened us to comparison,

That word "comparison" gets at the contrast between what we expect and what we actually get from Rilke, better than "emblem" I think. But it is lovely also, and to think of "representation."

I hope this makes sense. :|

The images are gorgeous, especially the painting! The light in the green is something I need badly right now.

Susan Scheid said...

Your choice of lines from Rilke is always so stunning, and a better way into his poetry than I've so far been able to come upon myself (though I'm hopeful that will come in time).

George said...

Much to ponder here, but I think that happiness, to the extent it exists, lies somewhere in the undulation of the rising and the falling. It's all in the movement, rising giving way to falling, and falling containing the energy that will bend and rise again.

am said...

Thank you for this today. You and Ruth inspired me to look into multiple translations.
I wish I could read German.

And we, who think of happiness
climbing, would feel the compassion
which almost confounds us,
when happiness falls.
(Alison Croggon translation)

As Patti Smith sings:

Dead to the world
Alive Alive-O

This came to mind from Kerouac's The Dharma Bums:

"In fact with one of my greatest leaps and loudest screams of joy I came flying right down to the edge of the lake and dug my sneakered heels into the mud and just fell sitting there, glad."

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I think that Rilke is always making these interesting connections, Ruth. In 'Duino Elegies' some of his tropes and metaphors are astonishingly daring.

I like the Crucefix translation too — in this instance, I think it wins hands-down over Snow's in its flow and concision.

Hi, Susan! I'm rereading 'Duino Elegies' at the moment, and will continue to share snippets on this blog. It's an extraordinary and profound work, isn't it?; one you can only read slowly and with deep meditation. Luckily, I'm able to read it in the original German — it's so difficult to translate adequately!

George, I simply loved your comment here! '… somewhere in the undulation of the rising and the falling.' Beautiful.

The Solitary Walker said...

I instinctively feel that translation sounds so good, Am! Yes…

Alive Alive-O! Your recent post! And so many other connections — to your past posts, to your internet biography, to… everything… thank you so much.

And, oh, that Kerouac quote! You have really and truly made my evening.

Sabine said...

Thank you. Now I started my day reading Rilke and remembering this particular elegy and the discussions we had in year 12 about the Leid-Stadt and the Todlos beer.
We had so little patience then for long and windy poetry, this being the 1970s with the snappy lyrics from Pink Floyd and ELP, but Rilke always stunned us into silence.
My teacher - then a young man - is long dead but a few years ago at a reunion I had the chance to thank him - and he blushed.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Who could resist indeed Robert. Catkins give me joy every year.

John Pendrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Sabine, for your story.

Lots of catkins around at the moment, Pat. We used to call them lambs' tails.

Thanks so much for pointing this out, John. I've replaced it with a more accurate picture. The new pic also better illustrates Rilke's 'empty hazel trees'.