Requiem For A Friend by Rilke

Dedicated to those who have passed,  famous or personal, who still haunt us in beautiful ways…


by Rainer Maria von Rilke

I have my dead and I have let them go

and been surprised, to see them so consoled,

so soon at home in death, just right this way,

so unlike what we hear.  Only you, you come

back; you brush against me, you move about, you want

to knock into things, to make them sound of you,

telling me you’re here.  Oh don’t take away what

I’m slowly learning.  For I’m right; you’re mistaken

if, touched, you feel homesickness

for any thing.  We transform it;

it isn’t here, we mirror it into us,

out of existence, the moment we can see it.

I thought you’d be furthur along.  It bewilders me

that you of all people come back here now, you,

who did more transforming than any other woman.

That your death frightened us, or, no, that

your hard death darkly broke in upon us

and tore what went before from what came after:

this is our concern; sorting it out

will be our task in everything we do now.

But that you were frightened yourself and even now

feel terror, where terror has no meaning;

that you could give up a portion of your

eternity, and enter here, dear friend, here,

where everything not yet is; that you, distracted in endless space,

for the first time, distracted and incomplete,

couldn’t grasp the dawning of eternal natures

the way, here, you grasped each smallest thing;

and that, from the circulation that has already received you,

the mute gravity of some disquiet

drags you back into counted time–

all this often wakes me at night like a thief breaking in.

If only I could say:  that you deign,

deign to come back out of magnanimity and overabundance,

so secure in yourself, so self-contained

that you can wander freely, like a child, unafraid

of the places where someone could harm you–

but no:  you’re pleading.  This cuts

to the bone and rips me like a saw.

Whatever rebuke that you, as ghost, could

bear against me in the night, when I pull back

into my lungs, into my guts,

into the last, poorest chamber of my heart–

could never be so gruesome

as this pleading.  What are you pleading for?

Tell me, do you want me to travel?  Did you

leave some thing behind somewhere, a thing now in torment,

that wants to follow you?  Should I look in a country

you never saw, though it was a kindred

to you as the other half of your senses?

I’ll take a passage up its rivers,

go ashore and inquire about its old customs,

speak with the women in their doorways

and look on as they call to their children.

I’ll watch how they wrap themselves in the land

while at their ancient labor

in the meadows and fields;  I’ll request

to be brought before the king,

and slip money to the priests to take me

and lay me down before their most powerful idol

and leave, closing the temple gates.

Then, when I’ve learned enough, I’ll

go and watch the animals, letting something

in how they move glide over into my

joints; and I’ll have a brief existence

in their eyes, which hold me

and then let me go, slowly, peacefully, without judging.

I’ll ask the gardeners to name for me

many flowers, so that in the shards

of their lovely proper names I can bring you back

traces of the hundred fragrances.

And fruit, yes, I’ll buy fruit, fruit in which

the country exists once again, right up to its sky.

For these are things you understand: full fruit.

You set them out in bowls with your colors.

In the same way as you saw fruit, you saw women,

and children, too, driven from within

into the forms of their existence.

And finally you saw even yourself as a fruit,

and took yourself out of your clothes and carried

yourself before the mirror and let yourself go in,

and didn’t say:  “That’s me;”  but :  “This is.”

And at last your looking was so incurious,

so free of possessing, and of such true poverty

that it no longer desired even you yourself:   holy.

This is how I would keep you, seeing you placing

yourself before the mirror, deep inside it

far from everything.  Why come back this way?

Why change things now?  Would you talk me into

believing that in those amber beads

at your neck was something even heavier

than the heaviness that is never in the heaven

of peaceful pictures;  why must you let me see

the ill omen in how you hold yourself;

and what could lead you to read your body’s

contours like lines in the palm of a hand,

so that now I can’t see them apart from fate?

Come here into the candlelight.  I’m not afraid to

look at the dead.  For when the dead come

they have as much right to sojourn

in our gaze as any other thing.

Come here;  let’s be quiet for a bit.

Look at the rose on my desk;

isn’t the light around it as hesitating

as the light shining above you:  it shouldn’t be here either.

Out in the garden, uninvolved with me,

it should have kept living or passed on–

now it’s just lasting it out:  what’s my consciousness to it, anyway?

Don’t be afraid if I grasp it now, ah,

now it rises in me:  I can’t help myself,

I must grasp it, even if I die of it.

Grasp that you’re here.  And I do grasp it

as a blind person grasps some nearby thing,

I feel your lot  yet can’t name it.

Let’s lament together that someone

could take you out of your mirror.  Can you still cry?

You can’t.  You transformed the force and urgency

of your tear into your mature gaze

and were just on the point of turning all your

body’s juices into a powerful existence,

which would rise and circle, trustingly, in equilibrium.

Then chance, your last encounter with chance,

tore you back from your furthest progress,

back into a world where juices have their will.

Not all at once; tore just a shred at first,

but when, around this shred, day by day,

reality swelled, became heavy,

then you needed all of yourself: then you went

and broke yourself, in fragments, laboriouly freeing

yourself from the law, because you needed yourself.  Then

you cleared the debris and dug from your heart’s

night-warm soil the still-green seeds

from which your death was to germinate: your own death,

the death that was yours during your own life.

And ate them, ate these kernels of your death,

as you had all the others, ate the kernels

that left in you an aftertaste of sweetness

you hadn’t expected, and gave you sweet lips,

you:  who within your senses were already sweet.

Yes, let’s lament.  Do you know how haltingly,

how begrudgingly, your blood turned back,

when you summoned it from its incomparable circling?

And how bewildered it was to take up again

the body’s trivial circulations; and with what mistrust

and stonishment it entered the placenta,

and then suddenly it was itred from the long journey back.

And you drove it, you shoved it forward,

you dragged it to the site of fire, as

one flails a group of animals to the sacrifice;

and you even wanted it to be happy there.

And at last you compelled it:  and it was happy,

and it ran to you and surrendered itself up.  You thought,

because you were used to another scale,

that it would take but a little while, but

now you were in time, and time is long.

And time passes, and time increases, and time

is like a relapse into an endless illness.

How short your life turned out to be, measured

against those hours when you sat silently

bending the many energies of your multifarious

future back down into this new child-sprout,

which once again was fate.  O painful labor.

O labor beyond all strength.  Day after day

you did it, dragged yourself to it,

extracted the lovely weft from the loom

and used all your threads in another way.

And in the end you even had the spirit to celebrate.

Once it was done, you wanted your reward,

as children do when they’ve drunk down

the bittersweet infusion that might make them well.

Here’s how you rewarded yourself:  for even then you were

too fat ahead of all the others; nobody

could have thought up a reward that would have pleased you.

But you knew.  You sat up in the birthing-bed,

and before you stood a mirror that gave you back

yourself whole.  Now all that was you,

all the in front; and inside was only deception

the lovely deception of every woman who likes

to spread out her jewelry, who combs her hair and changes.

And so you died, the way women used to die

died in that warm house the old-fashioned

death of women in childbirth, who wanted to close

themselves again, and no longer could,

because the darkness they’d also given birth to

comes back again and insists and enters.

Perhaps, after all, we should have rounded up

some wailing women?  Women who weep

out loud for money, whom one can pay

to bawl all the way through the quiet hours of the night.

Oh, how we need customs.  Oh, how we suffer from the lack

of customs.  They pass, we talk them out of existence.

And this is why you had to come back, yourself, dead, and help

here with me catch up on all the lamenting.  Can you hear

me wail?

I would swirl out my voice like a wide cloth

to cover the shards of your death

and then read it until it was torn to shreds,

and everything I’d say from then on would

wear, shivering, the tatters of this voice;

if lament were enough.  But now also I indict:

not him who wrenched you back out of yourself,

(I can’t find him, he’s like all the others)

but, in him, I accuse them all:  all men.

If somewhere deep within me arises osme essence

of having been a child, one I never experienced,

perhaps the purest childness of my childhood,

I don’t want to know it.  Without even looking,

I want to form an angel out of it

and hurl him into the foremmost rank

of screaming angels, to remind God.

For this suffering has gone on too long,

none of us can bear it; it’s too heavy.

This tangled suffering caused by false love, which

relying on antiquated convention, as well as habit,

claims the right to extort riches from a  wrong.

What man has the right to own?

Or ot possess what can’t grasp itself,

but every so often blissfully catches itself

and tosses itself out again, as a child with a ball.

As little can the captain possess

a Nike at the bowsprit of his hip

when the secret lightness of her godhead

suddenly lifts her high into the bright sea wind:

so little can any man call back

the woman who no longer sees us, and who,

along a narrow isthmus of existence,

miraculously walks off unharmed,

unless his profession and pleasure be guilt.

For this is guilt, if it is anything:

to fail to increase the freedom of a love

by all thee freedom we can raise within ourselves.

When we love, we have, at most, this:

to let each other go; for holding on

comes easily, we don’t have to learn it.

Are you still here?  In which corner are you?-

You knew so much about all these things,

and were so able, as you proceeded through life,

open to everything, like a dawning day.

Women suffer:  to love means being alone,

and artists sometimes intuit in their work

that when they love, they must transform.

You began both tasks;  we see it in all that

which fmae now distorts and takes from you.

Ah, you were far beyond any fame.  You were

inconspicuous, and quietly gathered

your beauty into yourself, as one takes in

a flag on a gray workday morning,

and wanted nothing but a long-term work–

which remains undone:  ever undone.

If you’re still nearby, if somewhere in this darkness

there’s a place where your spirit

resonates with the shallow sound-waves

a solitary voice can stir alone at night

in the currents of a high-ceilinged room:

Then hear me:  Help me.  You see, we slip back,

without knowing it, from our advance,

into something we didn’t intend: where

we can become caught up, as in a dream,

and where we could die without waking.

No one went further.  It can happen to any of us

who raise our blood to an extended work,

that we can’t hold it at that level,

and it falls of is own weight, worthless.

For somewhere an old enmity exists

between our life and the great works we do.

So that I may have insight into it and say it:  help me.

Don’t come back.  If you can bear it, stay

dead among the dead.  The dead have their tasks.

Then help me in some way that won’t distract you,

as what is farthest sometimes helps me:  within me.

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