The Second Elegy, trans. Stephen Mitchell
Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you,
Where are the days of Tobias, when one of you, veiling his radiance,
But if the archangel now, perilous, from behind the stars took even one step down toward us:
Who are you?
Early successes, Creation's pampered favorites,
But we, when moved by deep feeling, evaporate; we breathe ourselves out and away;
Though someone may tell us: "Yes, you've entered my bloodstream, the room,
And those who are beautiful, oh who can retain them?
Appearance ceaselessly rises in their face, and is gone.
Like dew from the morning grass, what is ours floats into the air, like steam from a dish of hot food.
O smile, where are you going?
O upturned glance: new warm receding wave on the sea of the heart . . .
Does the infinite space we dissolve into, taste of us then?
Do the angels really reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves,
Are we mixed in with their features even as slightly as that vague look
They do not notice it (how could they notice) in their swirling return to themselves.Lovers, if they knew how, might utter strange, marvelous words in the night air.
For it seems that everything hides us.
Look: trees do exist; the houses that we live in still stand.
We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.
And all things conspire to keep silent about us, half out of shame perhaps, half as unutterable hope.
Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you about us.
You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have become aware of each other,
That gives me a slight sensation.
But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other's passion grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
"No more . . . "; you who beneath his hands swell with abundance,
I am asking you about us.
I know, you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves,
So you promise eternity, almost, from the embrace.
And yet, when you have survived the terror of the first glances,
When you lift yourselves up to each other's mouth and your lips join,
Weren't you astonished by the caution of human gestures on Attic gravestones?
Wasn't love and departure placed so gently on shoulders
Remember the hands, how weightlessly they rest, though there is power in the torsos.
These self-mastered figures know: "We can go this far,
But that is the gods' affair."
If only we too could discover a pure, contained, human place,
For our own heart always exceeds us, as theirs did.
And we can no longer follow it,