Continuing with the classics: Apollinaire's Memories, Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil, The Odes of Pindar, and Rilke's Duino Elegies.
BY GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE
Oh! The tops of pines crack in colliding
And one hears so much of their lamenting
And from the river a voice thick and loud
Elves laugh at the wind or at gusts blare out
Attys Attys Attys disheveled with charm
It is the elves at night that mock your name
One of your pines falls to the gothic wind
The forest flees like an ancient army
Whose lances Oh pines are stirred in turning
The faded villages are now planning
Like the virgins the old men and poets
And wake to the feet of no one coming
Even when vultures descend on pigeons
The Death of Artists
BY CHARLES BAUDELAIRE
(Translated by John Wood)
How often must I play the sad jester
And kiss the low, dull brow of travesty?
Or spend arrows in wasted archery
To strike the mystic mark of Nature?
We'll break or crack our heavy armature
And wear our souls out in conspiracies
Before we gaze upon that grand Creature
Whose hell-made desires are our misery.
But some have never known their Idol:
The cursed artist branded with disgrace
Who beats his chest and tears his face
Has but one hope, O strange, dark Capitol,
That Death rising like a new star
Will flame his mind into flower.
The Odes of Pindar
from OLYMPIAN 1
Olympic fame gleams from far away,
when swiftness of foot and strength's vigor
boldly strive in the races of Pelops.
The victor finds surrounding him
honey-sweet peace all of his days-
at least as much as victory can bring.
But man's best blessing is daily fortune.
Now I must crown him with Aeolian song,
as the horseman is honored.
There is no better host, I'm sure,
no one more worthy to adorn
with glorious song, intricate hymns,
no king more worthy of power,
more familiar with beauty. . . .
from PYTHIAN 8
. . . Creatures of a day
What is someone?
What is no one?
But whenever Zeus-given radiance comes,
men have a shining light, a gentle life. . . .
Rilke, Sacabo, and the Elegies
BY JOHN WOOD
The Duino Elegies was the masterpiece of Rainer Maria Rilke, one of the three or four greatest poets of the twentieth century. The famous story of their beginning is recorded by Princess Maria von Thurn und Taxis, whose Castle Dxuino on the Adriatic Rilke was visiting in 1912. One morning while walking out on the battlements below the castle but above the sea and wind-whipped rocky cliffs, a voice from the wind cried out to him: Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? ("Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the angelic orders?) Rilke told the Princess that he whispered, "What is that? What is it that's coming?" And he wrote the words down, and they became the opening of the Duino Elegies; however, it was ten more years until the cycle was completed.
The subject of the Elegies is the subject of most great art---love, death, beauty, suffering, and the meaning of life, all of which really tells one nothing about the poem. Still more problematical is the fact that one cannot easily extract clear, exact, and precise ideas about love, death, or the meaning of life from the poem. It is a great but difficult work. The difficulty, however, diminishes if we recognize that it is a work of Symbolist literature and read it with our feelings instead of our intellect, our hearts instead of our heads. Rilke even tells us in the First Elegy, "Listen, my heart, as only / saints have listened." And he goes on to say,
. . . . Not that you could endure
the voice of God. . . . But hear what is whispering,
the endless message forming itself from silence.
It rustles towards you from those who died young.
If we read the Duino Elegies with our ears and hearts open to the voices of the dead---voices which can easily be heard if we will only turn from literal sound---we can hear Rilke clearly and understand what he is telling us.