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Susan McLean 09-09-2018 08:53 AM

Rilke, Before Summer Rain
Before Summer Rain
by Rainer Maria Rilke

At once, from all the greenery of the park,
something—you don’t know what it is—has gone;
you feel it approach the window and remain
silent. But from the wood, pleading and stark,

a plover’s call reverberates, and you
are put in mind then of a St. Jerome:
such loneliness and zeal are rising from
that one voice, which the rain will hearken to.

The portrait-covered walls of the great room
have stepped away from us, as if they should
not overhear what we might say in them.

The faded tapestries reflect the dim,
uncertain light of afternoons, a time
in childhood when you were consumed with dread.

Alternate sestet:
The portrait-covered walls of the great hall
have stepped away from us, as if they should
not overhear what we might say in them.

The faded tapestries reflect the dim,
uncertain light of afternoons, which filled
you with anxiety when you were small.

S2L4 "hearken" was "listen"
S4L1-3 was "The faded tapestries reflect the dim / and undecided light of afternoons, / in which, in childhood, you were filled with dread."

Vor dem Sommerregen

Auf einmal ist aus allem Grün im Park
man weiß nicht was, ein Etwas fortgenommen;
man fühlt ihn näher an die Fenster kommen
und schweigsam sein. Inständig nur und stark

ertönt aus dem Gehölz der Regenpfeifer,
man denkt an einen Hieronymus:
so sehr steigt irgend Einsamkeit und Eifer
aus dieser einen Stimme, die der Guß

erhören wird. Des Saales Wände sind
mit ihren Bildern von uns fortgetreten,
als dürften sie nicht hören was wir sagen.

Es spiegeln die verblichenen Tapeten
das ungewisse Licht von Nachmittagen,
in denen man sich fürchtete als Kind.

Literal translation:
Before the Summer Rain

At once, from all the green of the estate grounds,
something—you can’t say what—is taken away;
you feel it come closer to the window
and stay silent. Only, imploring and strong,

from the wood resounds the plover,
and you’re reminded of a St. Jerome:
so much do loneliness and zeal rise
from that one voice, to which the downpour

will hearken. The walls of the hall,
with their portraits, have stepped away from us,
as if they should not hear what we are saying.

On the faded tapestries is reflected
the uncertain light of afternoons,
in which, as a child, you were afraid.

Martin Rocek 09-10-2018 12:26 AM

this is very nice. In S1 there is a grammatical flaw (unless that exists in the original, but I would doubt that, since German has cases): it is not clear if the "something" or "you" remain silent.

In the sestet, your rhymes are so partial that they are hard to find, though I don't have any suggestions at this point. "undecided" is an interesting adjective to use for light, much more unusual than "uncertain"--is it justified?

I wonder if a tet version might not work better; you do seem to have a bit of metrical filler here and there, for example in the last tercet, and this weakens Rilke's meditative but clean lines.

Thanks for the read, and I hope these comments are some use.


Michael F 09-10-2018 07:52 AM

Oooh I love this one: it’s autobiographical and naturalistic and mystical and more straightforward than the last one you posted – though it also has layers of meaning. Can it be all those things at once? Yes, if it’s Rilke…

It’s a pity you can’t render R’s pun on “rain”, which is the first part of the plover’s name in German, but something must be lost in translation.

To answer Martin, it seems clear to me in the German that it is the something that remains silent, 'schweigsam' modifying 'ihn'.

Substantively, my only crit for you is the translation of “erhören”, for which I prefer “answer” or “hear” to “listen to” -- rain being a storied symbol, and the approach of the rain is the approach of you know what, in response to hearing a plea or prayer… yes, I realize you’d need to change the rhyme scheme, but perhaps something with hear / near or some other pair, including slant options. Something for you to consider, perhaps.

I’ll doubtless read it again and come back if I have more to say.


Susan McLean 09-10-2018 02:14 PM

Thanks for the responses. I have made some changes.

Martin, though there is some ambiguity in S1L3 in English, if I wanted the "remain" to go with "you," I would have added a comma after "window": "you feel it approach the window, and remain / silent." I tried several different ways of rewording the sentence to remove all ambiguity, but all of them resulted in more awkward rhythms. In S4 I did revert to "uncertain," which has more nuances that I like than "undecided," and I have reworded the last stanza to try to make the rhyme scheme less confusing. I would not try to write the poem in tetrameter because Rilke used pentameter, and the rhythms of the two meters are quite different.

Michael, "plover" comes from "pluvia," meaning "rain," but not everyone will know that. I have tried switching "listen" to "hearken," which has more overtones of "pay heed to," though it also sounds more old-fashioned.


Michael F 09-10-2018 04:02 PM

Hi Susan,

Yes, it occurred to me later this morning that ‘plover’ might have some etymological connection to rain – cf., the French ‘pleuvoir’. You’re right, the pun is still there, but in German it's everyday speech.

I like the new S4.

I’m not sure I’m sold on ‘hearken’ -- as you say, it’s a bit fusty in an otherwise contemporary poem. I do like the meaning, though.


Martin Rocek 09-10-2018 07:26 PM

in both the translation and the crib, you translate "man" as "you"; it could also be translated, might even be more naturally translated, as "one"; this would solve the grammatical issue, though it would be a bit less colloquial:

At once, from all the greenery of the park,
something—one can't say what it is—has gone;
one feels it approach the window and remain
silent. But from the wood, pleading and stark,

Just a thought.


Susan McLean 09-11-2018 11:17 AM

I have experimented with a different sestet that preserves the rhyme scheme of the original. Let me know, if you will, whether the change is for the better. I put the alternate ending after the current one.

Michael, I think for now I will stick with "hearken," but I would be glad to hear what others think of that choice.

Martin, though "one" would solve one problem, I would have to use it throughout for "man," and too many "ones" sounds like a stuffy butler is talking.


Martin Rocek 09-11-2018 12:11 PM

Hi Susan,

I don't see your new sestet. I have refreshed my browser to make sure it's not a caching problem.

Not to argue, but let me point out that Rilke changes to the first person in S3, so I don't think it would be necessary to go back to "one".

Best wishes,

Susan McLean 09-11-2018 12:26 PM

Martin, thanks. I forgot to save the changes after I made them, and I hadn't checked to see that they were there before I posted my reply. They are up now.


Martin Rocek 09-11-2018 12:58 PM

Hi Susan,

I think the new sestet is much smoother. I would recommend dropping both commas, particularly the second one; it changes the meaning a bit, but it is much more natural.


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