From A Stormy Night

by Rainier Maria Rilke

Title Page

The night, by the rising storm bestirred,
How spacious it suddenly seems--
As though at other times it were shirred
Between time's pedantic seams.
Where the stars would bar it, it does not wane,
Nor wax from the forest glens;
Nor at my face begin its reign
Nor at your lineaments.
The lanterns stammer and have to ask
Do we feign our light?
Has the only real thing for millennia past
Been the night?


In such nights you're apt to come upon
Future ones along the sidewalks--peaked and wan
Visages which do not take you in,
Let you pass in silence and go on.
Mark, though: were they to begin
Speaking, you would be defunct, forgotten
As you stand there,
Long since rotten.
Yet they remain in silence, like the dead,
For all they are the coming ones.
The future hasn't yet begun.
They only hold their faces into time
But cannot really look, as though submered;
And if they do endure it for a while,
They see as under waves: a darting file
Of fishes and the slant of ropes immersed.


Such nights may see the opening of the jails,
When through the turnkeys' haunted dreams
Walk with hushed gales, soft screams
Of laughter those who scorn their power.
Forest! They seek your trees to sleep among,
With their long sentences hung.


In such nights of a sudden fires break out
In opera houses. Like a saurian snout
The monstrous horseshoe with its rows and tiers
Begins to chew the throngs pent in its den.
Women and men,
Choking in lobbies, smothered between piers,
Pile up into a welded human mound
Till bursting masonry cascades them down.
Who knows who drew the dreadful downmost part;
When someone has already crushed his heart,
His ears are still awash with sound
Making for it...


In such nights, as they did in times gone by,
The hearts within the sealed sarcophagi
Of erstwhile princes start to beat again:
And with such power their livened pulses pound
Against the body-casks--which stand their ground--
That they propel the golden capsules then
through gloom and damask cloth that gives and frays.
the minster, naves and transept, blackly sways.
the bells, which clawed for holds among their stays,
Hang there like birds at bay, the doors mismate,
And on the pillars every strut is clenched
As if its founding granite plates were wrenched
By blind sea-turtles shifting place and weight.


In such nights the incurable see:
we will not be...
And they resume among the ill
a simple thought of good will
from the place it broke off.
But of the sons they raise
the youngest may walk the loneliest ways;
for just these nights
make him feel he is thinking for the first time:
He's long lain under a leaden pall,
but here comes what will lift the thrall--
and that he will celebrate it all,
he senses...


In such nights, all cities are alike,
Alive with flags,
Caught in the storm by the whipping rags
And dargged away as if by the hair
To Somewhere, some land of who knows
What contours and flows.
The gardens all have pool and dike,
By every pool the same house stands,
In every house the same light shows,
And people all look alike
Covering their eyes with their hands.


Such nights, the minds of the dying clear,
Their hands probe softly the growing hair
Whose stalks in those slow-moving days
Shoot forth and up from the skull's malaise
As if to stay above the sphere
of death.
That gesture runs through the house as though
Mirrors were hung on all the piers;
And by delving so
In that hair, they exhaust
Funds of strength gathered down the years
Now lost.

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