Tom Phillips, And the Wind (after Rilke), oil collage, 2013, image courtesy Flowers Gallery 


Tom Phillips translates the first of Rilke's Duino Elegies

But who if I cried out would hear me amongst

the hierarchies of angels? and just supposing

one of them suddenly drew me close to his heart: I'd succumb

to the greater strength of his selfhood. For beauty is nothing

but the onset of horror, yet we manage to bear it,

and worship it even, since it blithely disdains

to destroy us. Each and every angel is horrific.

That's why I hold back, to drink in the beckoning call

of darkness sobbing. But who can our needs invoke?

not angels; not people; and the wily animals

already suspect that we're not altogether at home

in the significant world. Maybe we're left

with some tree on the slope we have noticed

day after day; we're left with yesterday's street

and the loyal support of a habit,

that took to us, and then stayed and never went away.

Oh and night, the night, whenever the wind,

full of the beyond, eats at our face - who is denied it,

that yearned after, gently disenchanting harbinger of pain

to the solitary heart. Is it kinder to lovers?

Ah, they just cover each other to ward off their fates.

You still don't understand? Fling the void from your arms

into the open where we breathe; perhaps the birds

will respond to a widened sky with keener flight.

Yes, each springtime did need you. Star upon star

sought out your attention. A wave

surged forward from distant times, or

as you passed under an opened window,

a violin surrendered its sound. All that was a test.

But could you have coped with it? Weren't you still always swayed

by expectation, as if everything promised you

someone to love? (Where did you think to shelter her then,

with all those lumbering alien thoughts inside you

coming and going, and frequently staying the night).

Let your longing sing rather of women who loved:

undying fame for their passion is long overdue.

Then, you almost envy them, there are the jilted; that you found

more ardent by far than those who achieved fulfilment. Start now

rehearse again their praise, forever inadequate;

imagine: the hero lives on, that twilight of his

was only for show: a stage of his latest rebirth.

But Nature, worn out, repossesses the lovers

as if unable to summon the force to create them

a second time. Have you thought hard enough of Gaspara Stampa

and how any young girl, whose lover has left her,

inspired by that loftiest model of loving,

might be stirred to reflect: if I could just be as she was?

Shouldn't by now these oldest of heartaches

have borne us more fruit? Isn't it time

lovingly to release ourselves from the loved one

withstanding the tremor: as the arrow withstands

the string of the bow, gathering up from the throb of the shot

a greater self than itself. Staying put is nowhere reached.

Voices, voices. Hear them my heart, as only

the saintly once used to hear: that colossal call

raised them right up from the ground; they, unimaginably

just carried on kneeling, and did not react:

this was true hearing. As for you, you're far from prepared

to deal with the real voice of God. Yet listen to the moving air,

the seamless news that creates itself out of silence.

Now it rustles towards you from all that died young.

Whenever in Rome or in Naples you entered some church.

Didn't their destiny make itself quietly known?

Or else some telling inscription aroused you

as that plaque did just lately in Santa Maria Formosa.

What do they want of me? that I should softly erase

the stains of injustice that sometimes and somewhat

impede the perfect motion of their souls.

Without doubt it's strange no longer to inhabit the earth,

no longer to pursue barely mastered activities,

not to give roses and suchlike things, redolent

of a meaningful human future; no longer to be

in eternally nervous hands, the being one was,

and to cast aside one's very name, like a broken toy.

Strange not to carry on wishing one's wishes. Strange to see all

that once held together so randomly scattered in space.

Even being dead is hard work, so full of recollections

until by degrees one can sense a hint of eternity -

But the living themselves all make the mistake

of drawing too crude a distinction.

Angels (they say) may not be aware if it's among

the living or the dead that they move. The ageless flood

engulfs both those realms bearing the whole of time

and drowns out both voices as one.

In the end they need us no longer, those

who so early were spirited away,

gently one leaves behind the earth's concerns

as one is weaned from the mother's fond breast. But we

who need such grand mysteries, we for whom grief

so often gives rise to the blessing of progress

- : could we really manage without them?

Is the tale not worth telling, how once in the mourning for Linos

a first daring music pierced the dumb stillness; shocking the space

that a demigod youth abruptly, forever, had left,

and where emptiness first received those vibrations

that now bring us rapture and comfort and help.


26 June 2013

Three translations from Lorca by Hilary Davies


The Quarrel

To Rafael Mendez

Halfway down the gully

the flick knives of Albacete,

sumptuous with enemy blood,

gleam like fish.

A hard card-sharping light

snips shapes of maddened horses

and their riders' profiles

out of the acid green.

Two old women are weeping

in the heart of an olive tree.

The fight-bull

is going up the wall.

Black angels drew near, bearing

kerchiefs and snow-water.

Angels with great wings

made from the flick knives of Albacete.

Juan Antonio from Montilla

rolls down the slope dead,

his body wrapped in white iris

and a pomegranate on his brow.

Now he rides a fiery cross

the high road of death.


The judge, with the civil guard,

through the olive groves comes.

Spilt blood rustles

a wordless serpent song.

Officers of the civil guard:

it's the same old story.

Four Romans and five Carthaginians

have died.


The evening, wild with fig trees

and feverish whispers,

swoons on the pierced thighs

of the horsemen.

And the black angels flew

away on the west wind.

Angels with long tresses

and hearts made of oil.


Archangel Gabriel

A beautiful reed-youth

is roaming the deserted street:

wide shoulders, slender waist.

skin like a dusk-apple,

sad mouth, large eyes,

and sinews of burning silver.

His patent leather shoes

bruise the dahlias of the breeze

with two beats that scan

a brief sorrow in heaven.

On the seashore

there is no palm to equal him,

neither crowned emperor

nor wandering star.

When he bows his head

to his jasper breast,

the night looks for a field

where she can kneel down.

The guitars are playing only

for Gabriel the archangel,



-- Archangel Gabriel: the baby cries

in his mother's belly.

Don't forget that the gypsies

gave you your clothes.

Anunciación of the Christ Kings

full as the moon and poorly dressed,

opens the door to the light-bearer

coming down the road.

Gabriel the Archangel,

grandchild of Our Lady of the Weathervane,

dropped by to visit her

with a lily and a smile.

On his embroidered waistcoat

chirrup hidden cicadas.

The stars of the night

were turning into little bellflowers.

--Archangel Gabriel, now you have pinned me

with three nails of joy.

Jasmine flowers from your radiance

across my blushing face.

--God keep you Anunciación.

My dark-haired miracle.

You will bear a child more beautiful

than the stems of the breeze.

Oh, Archangel Gabriel, light of my eyes!

Little Gabriel, my life!

I am dreaming of a throne of clove-pinks

for you to sit upon.

-- God keep you, Asunciación,

full as the moon and poorly dressed.

Your baby will have a little crescent mole

and three wounds on his breast.

-- Oh Archangel Gabriel, how you shine!

Little Gabriel, my life!

Already deep in my breast

I feel the warm milk rising.

--God keep you, Asunciación.

Mother of a hundred dynasties.

Your eyes light up

the barren landscapes of brigands.


The child sings in the womb

of astonished Asunciación.

Three beads of bitter almond

tremble in his little voice.

Already the Archangel Gabriel

was on a ladder to heaven.

The stars of the night

were turning into ever-living flowers.

Preciosa and the Wind

Tapping her parchment moon

Preciosa comes

down a a double path

of crystal and laurels.

The starless silence

runs away from her tinsel beat,

falls where the waves pulse and sing

their night riotous with fish.

On the high sierra

the coastguards watching

the white towers

where the English live are asleep.

And the sea-gypsies

are building little bowers of conch-shells

and pine branches to pass the time.


Tapping her parchment moon,

Preciosa comes.

Seeing her, the wind, who never sleeps,

has got up.

Saint Christopher, naked, colossal,


looks at the girl, piping

his sweet distant song.

--'Girl, let me lift

your dress so I can see you.

Open the blue rose of your womb

To my ancient fingers.'

Preciosa throws down her tambourine

and runs for dear life.

The big man-wind pursues her

with a hot sword.

The sea darkens and roars.

The olive groves turn pale.

The panpipes of the night

and the flat gong of the snows sing.

Preciosa, run, Preciosa!

Or the green wind will catch you!

Preciosa, run, Preciosa!

See where he comes!

Satyr of scruffy stars

with their lubricious tongues.


Preciosa, filled with fear,

enters the house kept,

high above the pine trees,

by the English consul.

Frightened by her cries,

three guards come,

their black capes wrapped tight,

caps down over their brow.

The Englishman gives the gypsy

a glass of warm milk

and a shot of gin

which Preciosa does not drink.

And while she weeps and relates

her adventure to these people,

across the slate rooftiles

the enraged wind rakes his teeth.