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After Reading Shakespeare’s Tempest

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometime, somewhere, you had set him free
With a jolt, with which we tear ourselves away
From youth, to greatness: from all consideration.
Then, he was willing: and since then he’s served,
Impatient, after every task, for freedom.
And half imperiously, half almost ashamed,
You put it to him you’ve still need of him,
For this and that, ah, and must tell him
How you helped him. And yet you feel yourself
That all that’s held back here, with him,
Is missing from the air. So tempting, sweet,
To let him go – and then, there’s no more magic:
Committing yourself to Fate like all the others,
Knowing that his weightless friendship,
Lacking strain, with no more obligation,
An excess of the space you breathe,
Works on, without thought, in the Element.
Dependent now, and no longer gifted
With shaping your dull mouth to the call
At which he dived. Powerless, ageing, poor,
Yet breathing him, like an incomprehensible
Far-flung fragrance, that makes the unseen
Complete. Smiling that you once could so
Summon him, used so easily to such
Great undertakings. Perhaps weeping too,
Remembering how he loved, and wished
To leave you, always both at once.
(Have I loosed him, already? This man, become
A duke again, terrifies me. How gently
He draws the wire through his head
And hangs himself beside the other
Figures, and brings forward his speech
And asks for mercy…What an epilogue,
Of consummate power. Throwing off, standing
Naked, with only one’s strength: ‘which is most faint’.)

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