They lie here as if waiting. It’s as though
some act—some something—might at last be found
for them to make the cold not matter so,
to get them used to those to whom they’re bound.
For this is not—yet is—their final hour.
What sorts of names their pockets held might we
still find there? Though some dresser’s tried to scour
the heavy boredom off their mouths, we see
that it’s still there; it’s just become more clean.
Their beards stand just a bit more stiff now, spiking
respectably, to their attendants’ liking,
so morbid gawkers will not take offense.
Behind their lids, the eyes have turned their sense,
till only what is inner can be seen.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Len Krisak
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 Number 8, on page 35
Copyright © 2021 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com