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Susan McLean 07-26-2019 09:01 AM

Rilke, The Standard-Bearer
 
The Standard-Bearer (revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The others feel all objects to be rough
and lacking pity: iron, clothing, leather.
Yes, they’re caressed at times by a soft feather,
yet each is quite alone, deprived of love;
But he—as if he bore a woman—bears
the standard in the ceremonial clothes.
Close to his back, her thick silk fabric flares,
and now and then across his hands it flows.

All he can picture, when he shuts his eyes,
is just a smile: never must he forsake her.

And when, in flashing breastplates, they arrive
and snatch at her and seize and want to take her—

then must he tear her from the staff, as if
he tore her from her maidenhood to be
tucked beneath his war-coat and kept safe.

And for the rest, that’s fame and bravery.


The Standard-Bearer
by Rainer Maria Rilke

The others feel all things on them are rough
and lack compassion: iron, clothing, leather.
At times, it’s true, they’re stroked by a soft feather,
yet each is all alone, deprived of love;
But he—as if he bore a woman—bears
the standard in the ceremonial clothes.
Close to his back, her thick silk fabric flares,
and now and then across his hands it flows.

All he can picture when he shuts his eyes
is just a smile: never must he forsake her.

And when, in flashing breastplates, they arrive
and snatch at her and seize and want to take her—

then must he tear her from the staff, as if
he tore her from her maidenhood to be
tucked beneath his war-coat and kept safe.

And for the rest, that’s fame and bravery.


Der Fahnenträger

Die Andern fühlen alles an sich rauh
und ohne Anteil: Eisen, Zeug und Leder.
Zwar manchmal schmeichelt eine weiche Feder,
doch sehr allein und lieb-los ist ein jeder;
er aber trägt - als trüg er eine Frau -
die Fahne in dem feierlichen Kleide.
Dicht hinter ihm geht ihre schwere Seide,
die manchmal über seine Hände fließt.

Er kann allein, wenn er die Augen schließt,
ein Lächeln sehn: er darf sie nicht verlassen. -

Und wenn es kommt in blitzenden Kürassen
und nach ihr greift und ringt und will sie fassen -:

dann darf er sie abreißen von dem Stocke
als riss er sie aus ihrem Mädchentum,
um sie zu halten unterm Waffenrocke.

Und für die Andern ist das Mut und Ruhm.


Literal translation:
The Standard-Bearer

The others feel that all things in themselves are rough
and without sympathy: iron, clothes, and leather.
In truth, sometimes a soft feather flatters [them],
yet each one of them is quite alone and loveless;
he, however, carries—as if he carried a woman—
the standard in the ceremonial dress.
Close behind him moves her heavy silk,
which sometimes flows over his hands.

He can, when he closes his eyes,
see only a smile: he must not forsake her—.

And when they come in flashing breastplates
and snatch at her and wrestle and want to seize her—

then must he rip her from the staff
as if he ripped her from her maidenhood,
in order to hold her under his coat of arms.

And for the others, that is bravery and fame.

John Isbell 07-26-2019 11:32 AM

Hi Susan,

Basically, yes, I like it. I do have some details. First, Kant's Ding an sich is famously the thing in itself, rather than "on them." It seems to me likely that Rilke is using an sich thus. Stroked for schmeichelt - maybe. But I'd prefer "quite alone" to all alone. "Never must he forsake her" is all well and good, but there's no nie in the German. Maybe "and he must not..."?
OK, that's about it. Hope this helps. Everything else I think is very nice. :-)

Cheers,
John

Susan McLean 07-28-2019 03:54 PM

Thanks for the suggestions, John. I have tried to respond to most of them, but I did not wish to add an "and" to "never must he forsake her." I think the line between "he must not forsake her" and "he must never forsake her" is not very crucial to the meaning. I inverted the syntax for emphasis. I am sorry about the delay in responding. I was traveling in the past few days, could spend little time online, and had none of my translation tools with me.

Susan

John Isbell 07-28-2019 05:43 PM

Hi Susan,

Gute Reise!
That all makes sense. i just find "never must he forsake her" a tad precious, which I think Rilke rarely is.

Cheers,
John

Susan McLean 07-29-2019 12:43 PM

John, this poem seems a bit more florid to me than is usually the case for Rilke. Tales of heroic warfare bring out the sentimentalist in him.

Susan

John Isbell 07-29-2019 02:47 PM

Yes, florid is a good word for it. I agree with your basic premise as well.

Cheers,
John


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