Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Tenth Elegy
Ah, but the City of Pain: how strange its streets are:
the false silence of sound drowning sound,
and there--proud, brazen, effluence from the mold of emptiness--
the gilded hubbub, the bursting monument.
How an Angel would stamp out their market of solaces,
set up alongside their church bought to order:
clean and closed and woeful as a post office on Sunday.
Outside, though, there's always the billowing edge of the fair.
Swings of Freedom! High-divers and Jugglers of Zeal!
And the shooting gallery with its figures of idiot Happiness
which jump, quiver, and fall with a tinny ring
whenever some better marksman scores. Onward he lurches from cheers
to chance; for booths courting each curious taste
are drumming and barking. And then--for adults only--
a special show: how money breeds, its anatomy, not some charade:
money's genitals, everything, the whole act
from beginning to end--educational and guaranteed to make you
virile . . . . . . . . .
. . . . Oh, but just beyond that,
behind the last of the billboards, plastered with signs for "Deathless,"
that bitter beer which tastes sweet to those drinking it
as long as they have fresh distractions to chew . . . ,
just beyond those boards, just on the other side: things are real.
Children play, lovers hold each other, off in the shadows,
pensive, on the meager grass, while dogs obey nature.
The youth is drawn farther on; perhaps he's fallen in love
with a young Lament . . . . . He pursues her, enters meadowland.
"It's a long way. We live out there . . ."
Where? And the youth follows.
Something in her bearing stirs him. Her shoulders, neck--,
perhaps she's of noble descent. Still, he leaves her, turns around,
glances back, waves . . . What's the use? She's a Lament.
Translated by Edward Snow
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