Quartet

After Rilke, Trakl, Hölderlin, and Sachs

 

I. Evening

 

Leisurely, the evening sky puts on the robe

held up for it by a crown of ancient trees;

you watch, and the realms move apart like lovers—

one travels heavenwards, and the other one falls

 

and lets you be, bound to neither universe,

nor quite so dark as the house with its silence,

nor wholly so certain as eternity implored,

like whatever it is that becomes a star and rises—

 

and lets you be (to unravel beyond language)

your life, with its fear and infinity burgeoning,

so that, now walled in, now encompassing all,

it pulsates in you—stone, star, wave, particle.

 

II. All Souls

 

Gentlemen, ladies—a scrum of grieving friends—

sow their flowers now, the blue and the red,

on graves where the dusk sun lowers its curtain.

Poor, helpless puppets, they rehearse before death.

 

How rife with fear they look, how beaten to dust

standing here, shadows behind darkened shrubs.

Cries of the unborn keen in the autumn gusts

and someone watches lights in crazy reelings flitter.

 

The moans of lovers are breathing in the branches,

and with them rot bodies of a mother and child.

How unreal the roundabout of the living’s dance

and how strangely mingled with the evening wind.

 

Their lives are so plagued, brokenhearted, lacerated.

Have mercy, God, on women’s torments and despair,

and on these requiems, so hopeless and desolate.

Hushed, the lonely wander through vaulting halls of stars.

 

III. The Way

 

Greatness—you wanted it, too, but love hurls

everything down, grief grovels us till we’re tame,

though not for nothing are all of us bowed

back to the fetal cringe from which we came.

 

Go any which way. Somewhere in sacred night

dumb nature schemes our hatching brood of days;

just so, bent from hell’s own cowering heights,

is there nothing straight, nothing not astray?

 

I’ve suffered enough to know this—to my knowledge

never have the heavenly, the upholders of all,

never have they guided me like mortal masters

with care and caution along a level path.

 

Human, assay everything, so bespeak the Heavens,

so that fed on the living core you will learn

to give thanks to all that is, and grasp the freedom

to go where you will, having torn your self asunder.

 

IV. The Seeker

 

Like beings that exist in distant nebulae

we pass, revenants, from dream to dream,

we descend right through the blinding walls

of light bending through its seven-fold prism—

 

but invisible as glass, at last, and wordless,

the quantum singularity of death

held up in eternity’s crystal chalice,

and night’s wing beats laid bare, with every mystery.

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