Poems, Imitations & Translations

Saturday

Three Versions from Rilke



Leonid Pasternak: Rainer Maria Rilke (1928)


I

from Orpheus in the Bays


Thus far they sail in wonder-like iceberg-work,
wish till the silver earth begins to see
all, sadder dark-signed (un)kill. Swish in worse ills,
and spring this blood, this floodgate’s sudden mention,
and swear we pour for sure (assuming) th’uncle.
Son-star nicked rotors.

Belsen was in there
and visionless evil deer. Brew canoe Boleros,
and (yay!) ne’er grocer, grow a blinder tyke,
the rubber sigh – ’Nam: fair, non-grinned, a hick-
weed Reagan. Him. Mill you, bear; I, ne’er land-shaft,
won’t swish in. We’s insane, if town-fella, long mutt-
er: sheer design in Vegas’ blasé strife, en-
vy. I nill anger, bleaker, hunger-lagged …

And these designs in Vegas! Come in, sea.


[17/8-15/10/97]

[from “Jack’s Metamorphoses (Part 2).” brief 19 (2001): 70-79.]



Orpheus - Eurydice - Hermes


If the above seems a bit obscure, that's perhaps because it was constructed in the following manner:

Das war der Seelen wunderliches Bergwerk.
Thus far they sail in wonder-like iceberg-work,
Wie stille Silbererze gingen sie
wish till the silver earth begins to see
als Adern durch sein Dunkel. Zwischen Wurzeln
all, sadder dark-signed (un)kill. Swish in worse ills,
entsprang das Blut, das fortgeht zu den Menschen,
and spring this blood, this floodgate’s sudden mention …

Felsen waren da
Belsen was in there
und wesenlose Wälder. Brücken über Leeres
and visionless evil deer. Brew canoe Boleros,
und jener große, graue, blinde Teich,
and (yay!) ne’er grocer, grow a blinder tyke,
der über seinem fernen Grunde hing
the rubber sigh – ’Nam: fair, non-grinned, a hick-
wie Regenhimmel über einer Landschaft.
weed Reagan. Him. Mill you, bear; I, ne’er land-shaft,
Und zwischen Wiesen, sanft und voller Langmut,
won’t swish in. We’s insane, if town-fella, long mutt-
erschien des einen Weges blasser Streifen,
er: sheer design in Vegas’ blasé strife, en-
wie eine lange Bleiche hingelegt.
vy. I nill anger, bleaker, hunger-lagged …

Und dieses einen Weges kamen sie.
And these designs in Vegas! Come in, sea.

[Rainer Maria Rilke. “Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes.” Neue Gedichte I (1907). In Ernst Zinn, ed. Sämtliche Werke. 6 vols (Frankfurt: Insel, 1987) 1: 542-45.]



And just how is this a "translation", exactly? Well, certainly it's heavily under the influence of Louis Zukofksy's infamous "homophonic" version of the Roman poet Catullus:

Odi et amo, quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

– Gaius Valerius Catullus (c.84-54 BC): Elegy LXXXV

Ōdī ět ămō quārē ĭd făcĭăm fŏrtăssě rěquīrĭs
[I detest and I love. Why that I may do, perhaps you ask.]
Nĕscĭō sěd fĭěrī sěntĭŏ ět ěxcrŭcĭŏr
[I do not know, but to become I sense and I am tortured.]

O th’hate I move love. Quarry it fact I am, for that’s so re queries.
Nescience, say th’ fiery scent I owe whets crookeder.
– Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978)
Of this epic effort, the "Translators' Preface" comments that: "This translation of Catullus follows the sound, rhythm and syntax of his Latin - tries, as is said, to breathe the "literal" meaning with him."

Celia Zukofsky later explained their working procedure in a bit more detail in a 12 Sept. 1978 letter to Burton Hatlen:

I did the spade work. I wrote out the Latin line and over it, indicated the quantity of every vowel and every syllable, that is long or short; then indicated the accented syllable. Below the Latin line I wrote the literal meaning or meanings of every word indicating gender, number, case and the order or sentence structure. I used Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary (Oxford UP) and Allen & Greenough Latin Grammar (Ginn & Co.). Louis then used my material to write poetry — good poetry — I could never do that! I never questioned any of his lines, just copied his handwritten manuscript to facilitate the typing.


Catullus: Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber, trans. Louis & Celia Zukofsky (1969)


For a more literal version of Rilke's famous poem, you might like to take a look at Stephen Mitchell's translation here.







David Howard: Jack at Purakanui (2004)

II

After Rilke


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Lord: it is time. The summer was so gross

Lag deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
Hang your shadows from car-aerials

und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los. …
And over asphalt let dust-devils loose

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Whoso no house hath, will not build it now

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben …
Whoso’s alone, long will remain that way

Lord, it is time – the summer was so gross.
Hang your shadows from car aerials,
and over asphalt let dust-devils loose.

Tell the last girls to cover up their breasts –
no more sunbathing on the eastern shore –
button up trousers, blouses, coats; no more
blood-sweetness from the wine-dark flesh.

Whoso no house has, will not build it now.
Whoso’s alone, long will remain that way:
walk, read a little, tap-tap every day
long letters – wander listlessly
fall alleys, where the dead leaves stray.


[15/10/97]

[Jack Ross, City of Strange Brunettes (Auckland: Pohutukawa Press, 1998): 46.]



Jack Ross: City of Strange Brunettes (1998)


This reads a bit more like a conventional translation of Rilke's "Autumn Day" poem, but there's still a bit of Zukofskian word-play going on in my choice of a word such as "gross," which has very distinct meanings in German and English. I also like the way I was able in my syntax – awkward phrasings such as "whoso no house has" for "Wer jetzt kein Haus hat" – to emphasise the dependence of this version on the original at almost all points. Others may have seen this as a reluctance to commit to any one set of words, however.

Herbsttag

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süsse in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

[Rainer Maria Rilke. “Herbsttag.” Das Buch der Bilder (1902). In Ernst Zinn, ed. Sämtliche Werke. 6 vols (Frankfurt: Insel, 1987) 1: 398.]



Annette Gendler: Autumn Day (30/11/11)


For a more literal version of Rilke's poem, you can look at Edward Snow's translation here.







Christchurch Mosque Massacre suspect (16/3/19)

III

Christchurch, 15th March 2019


Du mußt dein Leben ändern
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Do we have to feel that pixilated head
burning behind our eyes?the media
keep broadcasting a manacled muscular
torso signalling triumph over the dead

his fingers cocked to a smirkthe score
perhapsJacinda Ardern’s noble face
caught in a rictus of grief can’t quite displace
the bluntness of his semaphore

on this darkest of days it feels like our worst fears
were always justifiedour impotence
out in the open for all to seeour pain

trumped by the old familiar reptile brain
but scrolling down those flowers those faces those tears
I can’t see them as nothingaren’t they us?


[19/3-14/4/19]



Louvre: Male Torso (4th-5th century BCE)

Clearly, this is an adaptation rather than a translation. Something about the stance of the suspect in the dock the morning after that appalling day in Christchurch reminded me of Rilke's 'Apollo'. There'd been a lot of online debate, too, about the appropriateness of the phrase 'they are us' coined by the Prime Minister straight after the terrorist attack. It seemed to me to embody an intentional paradox rather than to make any false claims for our actual inclusiveness as a society.

Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein enstellt und kurz
unter der Shultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und brächte nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

[Rainer Maria Rilke. “Archaïscher Torso Apollos.” Neue Gedichte II (1908). In Ernst Zinn, ed. Sämtliche Werke. 6 vols (Frankfurt: Insel, 1987) 1: 557.]



Archaïscher Torso Apollos
Archaic Torso of Apollo

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
We never knew his unheard-of head
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
where the eyeballs ripened. But
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
his torso still glows like a candelabra
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
in which his gaze, only half-illuminated

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
holds and dazzles. Otherwise the bow
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
of the breast wouldn’t join in, and the light twist
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
of the loins couldn’t lend a smile
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.
to that centre, which holds fertility.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein enstellt und kurz
Otherwise this stone would be shut and cut short
unter der Shultern durchsichtigem Sturz
under the shoulders’ transparent fall
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;
and would not flicker like a predator’s skin;

und brächte nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
and would not burst out on all sides
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
like a star: since there’s no part
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.
which doesn’t see you. You must change your life.
For more literal translations of Rilke's poem, it might be best to compare the multiple versions here.







Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)


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