5 April 2013

Darüber muß man schweigen

Christina Rossetti, "Life," from New Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1896), p. 169:
Oh intolerable life which all life long
   Abidest haunted by one dread of death —
   Is such life life? When one considereth,
Then black seems almost white, and discord song.
Alas this solitude where swarms a throng!
   Life slowly grows, and dwindles breath by breath —
   Slowly grows on us, and no word it saith,
Its cords made long and all its pillars strong.
Life wanes apace — a life that but deceives,
   And works and reigns like life, and yet is dead:
Where is the life that dies not but that lives?
The sweet long life immortal, ever young,
The life that wooes us with a silver tongue,
   Whither? Much said, and much more left unsaid.
Update: In an email to me, Stephen Pentz of First Known When Lost points out that the authoritative text of this poem can be found in Time Flies; A Reading Diary (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1897), pp. 214-215:
Scarce tolerable life, which all life long
   Is dominated by one dread of death, —
   Is such life, life?  if so, who pondereth
May call salt sweetness or call discord song.
Ah me, this solitude where swarms a throng!
   Life slowly grows and dwindles breath by breath:
   Death slowly grows on us; no word it saith,
Its cords all lengthened and its pillars strong.
Life dies apace, a life that but deceives:
   Death reigns as tho' it lived, and yet is dead:
Where is the life that dies not but that lives?
   The sweet long life, immortal, ever young,
   True life that wooes us with a silver tongue
Of hope, much said and much more left unsaid.
"Note her brother's omission of 'Death' at the beginning of line 7," he writes. "That makes quite a difference, doesn't it?"