On Hearing of a Death
We lack all knowledge of this parting. Death
does not deal with us. We have no reason
to show death admiration, love or hate;
his mask of feigned tragic lament gives us
a false impression. The world's stage is still
filled with roles which we play. While we worry
that our performance may not please,
death also performs, although to no applause.
But as you left us, there broke upon this stage
a glimpse of reality, shown through the slight
opening through which you disappeared: green,
evergreen, bathed in sunlight, actual woods.
We keep on playing, anxious, our difficult roles
declaiming, with matching gestures
as required. But your presence so suddenly
removed from our midst and from our play, at times
overcomes us like a sense of that other
reality: yours, that we are so overwhelmed
and play our actual lives instead of the performance,
forgetting altogether the applause.
-Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Albert Ernest Flemming)