Some Sonnets for Rilke
‘I didn’t know whether I wanted to be Orpheus or Eurydice or Al Johnson’
- Carly Simon
Youth Portrait of My Father
An in eye dream. The forehead as in touch
something far off. To the mouth enormously
much youth, unsmiled seduction,
& the full decorative lacing
the slender the noble uniform
saber, basket & both hands
wait quietly, urges to nothing.
& almost no longer visible: as if they
first, the distant border, disappear.
& everything else becoming for itself [falling into itself]
& withdrawing as if we did not understand
& deep from his own depth clouds
your disappearing photograph
my slow time passing hands.
(Rilke, Jugend-Bildnis meines Vaters)
Orpheus. Hermes. Eurydice.
That was the souls underground.
How silent silver they went
veins through darkness. Between roots
sprang blood to the world
looked stone heavy in darkness.
Nothing else was red.
Rocks were there
insubstantial forests. Bridge over emptiness
and that great grey blind pond,
hung over its distant floor
like rain sky over landscape.
And between meadows, soft and patient,
one path one pale strip appearing
In front the slender man in blue,
the mute, impatient, looked on.
His step devoured the path
hung his hands
heavy out of the falling of folds
and knew no more the delicate lyre
grown into his side.
Rose graft on olive.
His senses were as divided
his sight ran ahead of him like a dog,
turned, and again went far
and stood waiting at the next turn.
His hearing trailed like scent.
Sometimes it seemed to him as if it reached
as far as the going of those other two,
who should follow the long path.
Then again was just his own steps' echo
the wind in his coat.
But, he said, they are coming;
say it aloud and hear it fade away.
They are coming, those two others,
the terribly quiet walk. Could he
turn again (the returning gaze would be
the breakdown of this whole work,
it has to be finished first – move on - or), he would have to see,
the two that followed, silent:
The god of speed and distant messages,
journey hood over bright eyes,
slender staff held out before the body
his wings at his ankles;
and at his left hand: she.
So loved, that she caused more music
than he thought a woman capable of making
that a world was in grief as in
everything was itself again as grief: forest and valley
and road and village, field and river and animals;
for this world, just
as around the other earth, a sun
and a starry sky silent went
silent his suit with sky disfigured stars:
but she walked beside the hand of god,
her step narrow from wearing her grave, still trailing round her,
uncertain, gentle, without impatience.
She was in herself, as his hope was
and did not think of the man who went ahead
or the path to life.
She was in herself. Being dead
filled her as fullness does.
As a fruit is
ripe with death
new beyond understanding.
He said she was in a new virginity,
untouchable; her sex turned inward
night fall like a flower
she closed to him & her hands were of marriage
so unweaned that the god’s
hurt her like too much intimacy.
She was no longer a thing he might have seen as a woman
no longer her song-self,
no longer the wide bed scent and island
no man no longer owned her.
She was already loosed like long hair
poured out like rain
She was already root.
And suddenly when suddenly
the god stopped her and with pain
said words ‘he has turned’
she felt nothing and said softly: Who?
But far off, dark against her bright leaving,
was someone or other whose face
could not be recognized. Who stood and saw,
how on the strip of meadow path
with mournful look, the god of messages
silently turned to follow the shape
already turned on this same path,
the step constrained from wearing that trailing grave,
uncertain, gentle, without impatience.
you said, & you were Orpheus, or Eurydice, or Rilke
I cannot translate
without loss I was trying to bring you over
we were out in the borderlands somewhere I
was vibrating in and out of what I thought
was myself I was
sound in space this
could be called erotic but you were already
dead. you caught me
looking & it looks like glimpsing
eternity is watching
it slope off. That’s why
I keep calling you Orpheus. I think
this poem is
I mean the sounds I am making
Copyright © Katherine Peddie, 2016..