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Earlier tonight, as I was looking for an Ursula Le Guin short story whose name I can't remember (in which a girl performs her coming-of-age ritual: to lie awake on top of a hill all night long under a clear sky and watch the stars in their rounds***), I came across this translation of Rilke's 8th Duino Elegy. I've never been a Rilke booster (oy is he dramatical and affected and twee and NOT IN A GOOD WAY), but this translation suits me. Her treatment of the Tao Te Ching has always been a favorite - she goes flatfootedly, and it never veers too far into kitsch or the folksy. I love how she breaks into prose after the second stanza.

The Eighth Elegy
(From "The Duino Elegies" of Rainer Maria Rilke)
Translated by Ursula Le Guin

With all its gaze the animal
sees openness. Only our eyes are
as if reversed, set like traps
all around its free forthgoing.
What is outside, we know from the face
of the animal only; for we turn even the youngest child
around and force it to see all forms
backwards, not the openness
so deep in the beast's gaze. Free from death.
Only we see that. The free animal
has its dying always behind it
and God in front of it, and its way
is the eternal way, as the spring flowing.

Never, not for a moment, do we have
pure space before us, where the flowers
endlessly open. Always it's world
and never nowhere-nothing-not,
that pure unoverseen we breathe
and know without desiring forever. So a child,
losing itself in that silence, has to be
jolted back. Or one dies, and is.
For close to death we don't see death,
but stare outward, maybe with the beast's great gaze.
And lovers, if it weren't for the other
getting in the way, come very close to it, amazed,
as if it had been left open by mistake,
behind the beloved -- but nobody
gets all the way, and it's all world again.
Facing Creation forever, all we see
in it is a mirror-image of the free
in our own dark shadow. Or an animal,
a dumb beast, stares right through us, peaceably.
This is called Destiny: being face to face,
and never anything but face to face.

Were this consciousness of ours shared by the beast, that in its certainty approaches us in a different direction, it would take us with it on its way. But its being is to it unending, uncontained, no glimpse of its condition, pure, as is its gaze. And where we see the Future, it sees all, and itself in all, and healed forever.

Yet in the warm, watching animal
is the care and weight of a great sadness.
For it bears always, as we bear,
and are borne down by, memory.
As if not long ago all we yearn for
had been closer to us, truer, and the bond
endlessly tender. Here all is distance,
there it was breathing After the first home,
the second is duplicitous, drafty.
O happiness of tiny creatures
that stay forever in the womb that bears them!
O fly's joy, buzzing still within,
even on its mating-day! For womb is all.
And look at the half-certainty of birds,
that from the start know almost both,
like a soul of the Etruscans
in the body shut inside the tomb,
its own resting figure as the lid.
And how distressed the womb-born are
when they must fly! As if scared
by themselves, they jerk across the air, as a crack
goes through a cup: so the bat's track
through the porcelain of twilight.

And we, onlookers, always, everywhere,
our face turned to it all and never from!
It overfills us. We control it. It breaks down.
We re-control it, and break down ourselves.

Who turned us round like this, so that
no matter what we do, we have the air
of somebody departing? As a traveler
on the last hill, for the last time seeing
all the home valley, turns, and stands, and lingers --
so we live forever taking leave.
-------------



***Not from Earthsea, but maybe one of the Hainish stories? Help a girl out, dear reader of science fiction.
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