The Raising of Lazarus

Adapted from the original notebook fragment written by Rainer Maria Rilke in Spain in 1913.

Evidently, this was needed. Because people need
to be screamed at with proof.
But he knew his friends. Before they were
he knew them. And they knew
that he would never leave them
there, desolate. So he let his exhausted eyes close
at first glimpse of the village fringed with tall fig
trees — 
immediately he found himself in their midst:
here was Martha, sister of the dead
boy. He knew
she would not stray,
as he knew which would;
he knew that he would always find her
at his right hand,
and beside her
her sister Mary, the one
a whole world of whores
still stood in a vast circle pointing at. Yes,
all were gathered around him. And once again
he began to explain
to bewildered upturned faces
where it was he had to go, and why.
He called them “my friends.” The Logos, God’s
creating word, — the same voice that said
Let there be light.
when he opened his eyes,
he found himself standing apart.
Even the two
slowly backing away, as though
from concern for their good name.
Then he began to hear voices;
quite distinctly,
or thinking:
if you had been here
our friend might not have died.
(At that, he slowly reached out
as though to touch a face,
and soundlessly started to cry.)
He asked them the way to the grave.
And he followed behind them,
to do what is not done
to that green silent place
where life and death are one.
By then other Brueghelian grotesques
had gathered, toothlessly sneering
across at each other and stalled
at some porpoise or pig stage
of ontogenetical horrorshow, keeping
their own furtive shadowy distances
and struggling to keep up
like packs of limping dogs;
merely to walk down this road
in broad daylight
had begun to feel illegal,
unreal, rehearsal,
test — but for what!
And the filth of desecration
sifting down over him, as a feverish outrage
rose up, contempt
at the glib ease
with which words like “living”
and “being dead”
rolled off their tongues;
and loathing flooded his body
when he hoarsely cried,
“Move the stone!”
“By now the body must stink,”
some helpfully suggested. But it was true
that the body had lain in its grave four days.
He heard the voice as if from far away,
beginning to fill with that gesture
which rose through him: no hand that heavy
had ever reached this height, shining
an instant in air. Then
all at once clenching
and cramped — the fingers
shrunk crookedly
into themselves,
and irreparably fixed there,
like a hand with scars of ghastly
slashing lacerations
and the usual deep sawing
across the wrist’s fret,
through all major nerves,
the frail hair-like nerves — 
so his hand
at the thought
all the dead might return
from that tomb
where the enormous cocoon
of the corpse was beginning to stir.
Yet nobody stood there — 
only the one young man,
pale as though bled,
stooping at the entrance
and squinting at the light,
picking at his face, loose
strips of rotting shroud.
All that he could think of
was a dark place to lie down,
and hide that wasted body.
And tears rolled up his cheek
and back into his eyes,
and then his eyes began
rolling back into his head ...    
Peter looked across at Jesus
with an expression that seemed to say
You did it, or What have you done?
And everyone saw
how their vague and inaccurate
life made room for his once more.

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