Tubes

1
'Up, down, good, bad,' said
the man with the tubes
up his nose, ' there's lots
of variety…
However, notions
of balance between
extremes of fortune
are stupid—or at
best unobservant.'
He watched as the nurse
fed pellets into
the green nozzle that
stuck from his side. 'Mm,'
said the man. ' Good. Yum.
(Next time more basil…)
When a long-desired
baby is born, what
joy! More happiness
than we find in sex,
more than we take in
success, revenge, or
wealth. But should the same
infant die, would you
measure the horror
on the same rule? Grief
weighs down the seesaw;
joy cannot budge it.'

2
'When I was nineteen,
I told a thirty-
year-old man what a
fool I had been when
I was seventeen.
'We were always,' he
said glancing down, 'a
fool two years ago.''

3
The man with the tubes
up his nostrils spoke
carefully: 'I don't
regret what I did,
but that I claimed I
did the opposite.
If I was faithless
or treacherous and
cowardly, I had
my reasons—but I
regret that I called
myself loyal, brave,
and honorable.'

4
'Of all illusions,'
said the man with the
tubes up his nostrils,
IVs, catheter,
and feeding nozzle,
'the silliest one
was hardest to lose.
For years I supposed
that after climbing
exhaustedly up
with pitons and ropes,
I would arrive at
last on the plateau
of walking-level-
forever-among-
moss-with-red-blossoms.
But of course, of course:
A continual
climbing is the one
form of arrival
we ever come to—
unless we suppose
that the wished-for height
and house of desire
is tubes up the nose.'

by Donald Hall

Comments (1)

The external features of the self-portrait resemble photos of Rilke. The noble family lineage, as with Churchill, brings confidence and the ambition to succeed. The childhood fears are endearing, as is the calm humility and conciseness of one who follows where his art leads, in the service of truth as he sees it. It’s unclear to what ‘succeeding’ (second line of the sestet) refers in this translation, possibly to the remarkable poetic works that Rilke is already planning.