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  #1  
Unread 04-18-2021, 11:16 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, The Tower

The Tower
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Bell Tower of St. Nicolas, Furnes

Deep in the Earth. As though the place you climb
to, blindly, were earth’s surface, and you mount
up to it on the slanting bed of streams
that slowly issued from the probing clot

of darkness, which your face now presses through
as though you’re resurrecting, and which all
at once you see, as if about to fall
from this abyss that’s hanging over you,

and which, as if it’s starting to tip over,
immense above you in the twilit rafters,
you recognize, alarmed and shocked, and feel:
O if it rises up, hung like a bull—

but then the windy daylight draws you out
of that cramped ending. Almost flying, here
you see the skies again, dazzlingly bright,
and there the depths, awake and all astir,

and little days, as if by Patinir,
all simultaneous, hour next to hour,
and over which the bridges leap like hounds,
always on the trail of the bright road,

which now and then the clumsy houses hide
until, in the far distance of the background,
it goes, relieved, through brush and countryside.


Note: Joachim Patinir (c. 1480-1524) was a Flemish painter whose paintings often show a Biblical or historical subject against a background that contains tiny scenes related to different stages of the story, as if they were all happening at once.


Revisions:
Epigraph: changed "Tower" to "Bell Tower"
S3L1 was "and which, as if it’s tipping itself over,"
S3L2 "twilit" was "dimming"
S6L2 was "until, completely lost within the background,"


Der Turm

Tour St.-Nicolas, Furnes

Erd-Inneres. Als wäre dort, wohin
du blindlings steigst, erst Erdenoberfläche,
zu der du steigst im schrägen Bett der Bäche,
die langsam aus dem suchenden Gerinn

der Dunkelheit entsprungen sind, durch die
sich dein Gesicht, wie auferstehend, drängt
und die du plötzlich siehst, als fiele sie
aus diesem Abgrund, der dich überhängt

und den du, wie er riesig über dir
sich umstürzt in dem dämmernden Gestühle,
erkennst, erschreckt und fürchtend, im Gefühle:
o wenn er steigt, behangen wie ein Stier - :

Da aber nimmt dich aus der engen Endung
windiges Licht. Fast fliegend siehst du hier
die Himmel wieder, Blendung über Blendung,
und dort die Tiefen, wach und voll Verwendung,

und kleine Tage wie bei Patenier,
gleichzeitige, mit Stunde neben Stunde,
durch die die Brücken springen wie die Hunde,
dem hellen Wege immer auf der Spur,

den unbeholfne Häuser manchmal nur
verbergen, bis er ganz im Hintergrunde
beruhigt geht durch Buschwerk und Natur.


Literal translation:
The Tower

Tower of St. Nicolas, Furnes

Within the Earth. As if Earth’s outer surface were that
toward which you blindly climb,
to which you climb on the slanted bed of streams
that have slowly sprung from this groping clot

of darkness, through which your face,
as if resurrecting, presses itself,
and which suddenly you see, as if it would fall
from this abyss that overhangs you

and which, as if it, gigantic, were turning over
above you in the dim rafters,
you recognize, terrified and fearful, feeling:
O if it rises, hung like a bull—

But then windy light draws you out
of that narrow ending. Nearly flying, you see here
the skies again, dazzle on dazzle,
and there the depths, wakeful and full of employment,

and little days as if by Patinir,
all simultaneous, with hour next to hour,
across which the bridges leap like dogs
always on the track of the bright road,

which clumsy houses sometimes barely
conceal, until far in the background
it moves, relieved, through brush and countryside.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 04-23-2021 at 01:01 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-21-2021, 11:10 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Since I have had no responses yet, I would like to ask readers whether they can follow the narrative here. I found it baffling at first, and although I have theories about what is going on, I didn't want to state them in a note because then I would not know whether readers can make the connections I made.

Susan

Last edited by Susan McLean; 04-22-2021 at 11:34 AM.
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  #3  
Unread 04-21-2021, 11:11 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I gather that the tower doesn't have many windows, and those few are very high up, so climbing the stairs toward the slanting beams of light is like climbing up from underground.

I don't know what, exactly, in the tower is hung like a bull and could (in imagination) rise up, to the narrator's hypothetical consternation. I guess a big bell might look like a bull's pendulous scrotum, and a slanting beam of light might angle downward like a bull's extended penis, until the bull mounts a cow.

But I have a feeling that I'm being too literal and am making a fool of myself again.

I like the leaping bridges a lot.

The road doesn't seem to be "completely lost" in the crib.
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Unread 04-21-2021, 11:50 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I found a dictionary offering draped for behangen. That opens up some possibilities. If we go with hung, I search my mind and come up mostly with this, for some reason: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazen_bull
But I quite like "draped like a bull" as an option. The bull is perhaps draped for sacrifice or festival.
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Unread 04-22-2021, 07:46 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks, Julie and John. I was afraid that I was not managing to convey what I assume is the solution to the puzzle. I think Julie is right that the darkness hanging above is a giant bell, and that we are supposed to picture its huge clapper as resembling a bull's scrotum. The reason for the terror at the possibility that the bell might be tipping could be a fear that it might fall on him, but I think it is more likely that he knew that if the bell rang while he was in the enclosed space, the sound of it would be deafening, possibly even deadly. (I got this information about bells and bell towers from a Dorothy Sayers novel I read many years ago and can barely remember, but I think it is true about extremely loud sounds in enclosed spaces). Now some of this may just be the paranoia induced by being in a dark and narrow space, but you can feel his relief as he comes out into the sunlight. I had assumed that he might be coming out onto a platform at the top of the bell tower (but there is not one visible in photos I have seen of the tower); it might be the roof or just a window at the top. Julie, I will see what I can do with "completely lost."

Susan
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Unread 04-22-2021, 11:08 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I found video that shows the largest bell, named the Bomtje, tipping when rung. The ball near the end of the clapper is definitely the size of a bull's scrotum (although it also looks as if it's been replaced at some point, so it might have looked different when Rilke saw it, although to keep the tone the same the mass couldn't be much different).

The Bomtje alone:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SCbtsg9BDc&t=805s

The Bomtje being added to other bells:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SCbtsg9BDc&t=1040s

Elsewhere in the video is footage taken from the top of the tower.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-22-2021 at 11:12 AM.
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Unread 04-22-2021, 11:42 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks, Julie. That video was very helpful. I have now tried to rewrite that next-to-last line, and I have also changed "dimming" to "twilit" because I think that the bells are always in semi-darkness and it is not getting darker at the moment he is writing about.

Susan
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Unread 04-22-2021, 12:04 PM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Default Susan McLean - Rilke - The Tower

Susan,

I'm fascinated with what's coming up in collaboration, through comments.
I had found this to be a difficult poem, and still do. It seems to rely heavily on the title, for interpretation. If it had no title, how would it be interpreted? But my question is whether reading it only in German has the same effect. From the conversations, I imagine it does.

One adjective jumps at me, to say in praise of your work translating Rilke's poems: brave! Rilke and Kafka are two reasons why I wish I had taken more than one semester of German. I feel lucky to be a member of eratosphere, to be able to ask questions.

Thank you, Susan, and Julie, too!
~mignon
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Unread 04-22-2021, 12:44 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Susan, I wonder about this bit in the crib:

     and which, as if it, gigantic, were turning itself over

and in the verse translation:

     and which, as if it’s tipping itself over,

In French, Spanish, and Italian, the reflexive pronoun is used where in English we would instead use a passive construction like "were getting tipped over," or even just plain "were tipping."

I don't know German, but I suspect it might be similar in its colloquial expression, and this would allow you to be less literal and more colloquial in the English, too.

[Edited to add:]

mignon's comment about the title started me wondering whether the epigraph/subtitle could be a place to sneak in the helpful word "bell," by making it Belltower of St. Nicolas, Furnes. This would increase the chance of readers connecting the dots.

Also, do you read "Abgrund" (abyss) as referring specifically to the concavity of the great bell, rather than generally to the darkness near the top of the tower?

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-22-2021 at 01:30 PM.
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Unread 04-23-2021, 01:17 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Mignon, I am glad you are enjoying the translation discussions. I get a lot from them. I don't know whether "brave" or "foolhardy" is the best adjective for one who tries to translate Rilke. But I feel that I am learning a lot from the attempt.

Julie, I usually hesitate to add anything to Rilke that he did not mention, but I think he would have assumed that most people know that a tower on a church is probably a bell tower. Therefore, I have added that info to the epigraph in the hope that it will give readers a clue to what they should be picturing. In S3L1 I had added "itself" to the line for the meter, not because I thought it needed to be there. I had to think hard about whether anything else could work in that line to fill out the syllable count without departing too far from Rilke's meaning. I don't think the "abyss" in S2L4 is referring to the appearance of the bell. Instead, I suspect that Rilke is trying to suggest the disorientation of someone who is climbing in the dark or semi-darkness. One thinks of an abyss as something below, but here the darkness is hanging above him, too. Is he going up or going down? Is the bell falling or is he? There is a sense of vertigo in the lines.

Susan
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