Poetry at Sangam




(Translated from the German by David Need. To read the original, click here.)

From Sonnets to Orpheus: Part One (1922)


And it was almost a girl and came forth
out of that lucky break of song and lyre
and shone clear through her spring-time veils
and made herself a bed in my ear.

And slept within me. And her sleep was everything.
The trees that constantly astonished me, the
marked distances, the meadows I longed for,
every wonder that touched my heart.

She slept the world. Singing God, how did you
perfect her so that she wants nothing
but to be awake? Look, she arose and slept.

Where is her death? O will you devise
this motive only when your song is spent? —Where does
she go, as she sinks away from me? …almost a girl…


Put up no marker. Let roses
bloom each year for his memory.
Orpheus is there. His metamorphosis
in this and that. We should not trouble

with another name. Its’ the same for all times—
when he sings, it’s Orpheus. He comes and goes.
Isn’t it already enough, when he sometimes stays on
for a few days longer than the bowl of roses?

O, that he must vanish so that you understand!
And when I, myself, worried for him, he disappeared.
Even as his word reaches past the here and now,

he is already out there, where you cannot follow.
The lyre’s frame does not constrain his hand,
And he obeys, even as he steps beyond.


But I want you now, you whom I knew
like a flower whose name I didn’t have,
to remember one more time and to show them, stolen one,
the beautiful playmate of these insurmountable cries.

Just a dancer, who suddenly stopped your so hesitant
body, as though someone had cast your youth in bronze;
grieving and listening—. There, from powers on high,
music fell into your transposed heart.

The illness was near. Already taken over by shadows,
your blood rose, darkening, though, as if just a bit suspicious,
it pulsed with your nature’s Springtime.

Again and again, broken by darkness and collapse,
it gleamed, earthly. Until after an awful throbbing,
it stepped through the hopelessly open door.


From Sonnets to Orpheus: Part Two (1922)


Flower-muscle that little by little
opens the anemone to the meadow dawn
until the polyphonic light of the clamoring
skies pours into her skirts

on the muscle of limitless acceptance
that stretched back the silent star-flower
sometimes so overcome with richness
that sunset’s call to sleep

is hardly able to summon the flung back,
open petals to you:
you, choice and strength of so many worlds!

We who are violent, we would stay longer.
But when, in which of all our lives
will we at last be open and receive?


Rose, sitting in state—for the ancients,
you were a cup with a single lip.
But for us, replete with countless petals,
you are the inexhaustible Other.

In your wealth, you shine, as if garment upon garment
lay about a body made of nothing but light;
and yet each of your petals is, at the same time, a withdrawal
and the withdrawal, those clothes.

For centuries, your fragrance has called across to us
with its sweetest names;
suddenly, like glory, it rests in the air.

But we don’t know what to call it, we guess…
And the remembrance we build of those
hours of summoning doesn’t capture it.


Flowers, finally of use to the arranging hands,
(the hands of girls, then and now),
often laid from one end to the other on the
garden-table, dulled and gently wounded,

awaiting the waters that might once again
revive you from death’s onset—and now
lifted again between the flowing poles
of sensitive fingers, which care

still more capably than you imagined, you slight
things, and you find yourselves in a jug,
slowly cooling and giving off the warmth of the girls,

as if at confession, like bleak, weary sins,
done when you were picked, as though referring
again to those, who would be allies of your blooming.

XII (SW I, pp. 758-9)

Desire transformation. O, hunger for the flame
in which a thing withdrawn into you shines in its changes;
what had been sketched as spirit, that now masters the earthly
loves nothing in the figure’s flourish more than the turning point.

He who is trapped in staying surely is paralyzed;
does he think himself safe in the cover of obtrusive grays?
Standpoint—a hard thing warns of the greatest hardships in the
You regret it—: the far-off hammer is lifted!

He who pours himself out from his source gets recognized by Wisdom;
and she takes him, delighted, through the cheerful work
that so often concludes with creation and begins with ending.

Every lucky bit of room is a child or grandchild of parting, where
those two passed, amazed. And Daphne, in the midst of shifting shape, feels herself become laurel and wants you to change yourself into wind.


Look at the flowers, who are true to the earthly,
to whom we lend fate from the margins of fate—
however blank it is. When they repent their fading,
is it for us to be their rue?

Everything wants to fly. We go about as if in grief,
we lay ourselves on everything, delight in our heaviness;
o what enervating teachers we are for things,
even as childhood is eternally blissful for them.

If someone falls into a comforting sleep, and sleeps
deeply with things—: o, how easily he might come,
elsewise then, to a different day, out of the mutual depth.

Or perhaps he would linger; and they would blossom and
praise him, the convert, who is now like they are,
all those silent kinfolk in the meadow’s wind.


Dancer: oh you who transpose
all departure with a step: how you brought it here.
And the pirouette at the end, that tree in motion,
didn’t it take the circle of the year, utterly, as its own?

Didn’t the tree’s crown suddenly bloom with stillness, as your
whirling just now crowded in on it? And above it,
wasn’t there sunlight, wasn’t there summer, warmth,
this endless warmth that poured out from you?

But it also was laden, it was laden, your tree of ecstasy.
Aren’t they its peaceful fruits: a pitcher, the potter’s
ripening strokes, and an even more ripened vase?

And in the pictures: don’t the gestures remain,
the darker stroke of your brow
rapidly sketched on the screen of each turn?


Oh, come and go. You, still almost a child,
supply for a moment the figures
in the clear constellation of each dance
by which we briefly surpass dumb, ordinary,

Nature. Because she stirred and
just listened so intently when Orpheus Sang.
From then until now you have been troubled
and slightly bothered when a tree pondered

too long about going with you into listening.
You still knew the place where the song
lifted its notes—; the unyielded center.

For you tried the most beautiful steps
and hoped to one day turn towards the unbroken
festival of your friends’ gait and countenance.