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The Dwarf’s Song

October 31, 2016

The Dwarf’s Song

What if my soul were straight and good?
It’d have to haul this maze of blood.
Weighed down under such bad moods
Would it be happy?
No home, no garden bed or quarters:
Stuck here on my bones’ sharp corners
Wildly flapping.

As for my hands—two hard scraps
Can’t even fidget worth a crap
Just loose jumps and plops and slaps
Like toads in rain.
The rest is such a wreck, I gather
God can’t see why He need bother
Break what’s broken—lift his rod and
End my pain.

This old face looks like I
Gave time herself a hearty snog.
It might have beamed as charmingly
As an epilogue.
But nothing ever came nearby
Except big dogs,
And the dogs didn’t try.

-_Rainer Mairia Rilke 1894

COMMENTARY: This is the second to last poem in “Die Stimmen” (The Voices) an early song cycle celebrating (if that’s the word) various hard-scrabble misfits and down on their luck ragamuffins. In addition to “Song of the Dwarf” there’s songs for the beggar, the drunkard, the suicide, the idiot, the leper, the orphan, and the widow. Though not lacking empathy for these characters, the songs are playful, exuberantly rhymed, and funny in the manner of Yeats’s “Crazy Jane” poems.

I love this poem for the angularity of the physical detail–the image of the soul as a caged bird flapping on the bones corners, the two gnarled hands like toads in rain, the face that gave time a kiss. The last line of the poem is perfect for cantankerous world-weariness. The dwarf might have been happy if something (or someone) had taken an interest in him, but not even the dogs would give him a chance. Poor dwarf.

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