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Unread 03-23-2020, 12:06 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is online now
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 14,691

I enjoyed the poem without understanding it. I hadn't thought of prostitutes, though I suppose that interpretation fits. I think the way I took it was that these are just regular old people and Rilke somehow found them hideous because they are old and near death, and upon that hideousness he grafted a visceral reaction that they are reaching out to the rest of us non-old people to lure us into old age and death. Perhaps the prostitute image works with that, if you imagine them as being both disgusting and potentially seductive (at least in some people's eyes).

The translation reads quite well, and I think the obscurity equally exists in the original.
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Unread 03-23-2020, 03:03 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,381

Julie, I have changed the title, since it was stumping people. It now is more gender-specific, as in the German. But Rilke isn't describing the women in groups. He is seeing one of them at a time, yet he emphasizes how similar they look and act. (This is one of the things I dislike about Rilke. He often sees other people as representative of a group, rather than seeing each one as an individual.) As I translate more and more of Rilke's poems, I am learning his tics. I can't say for sure that because he has never done a particular thing before, he won't do it. However, all writers have things they tend to do. In his upper-class courtesan poems, he often brings death into the picture, but not usually physical revulsion. I don't buy it when Rilke implies that the women are luring him, the onlooker. I think he has a morbid fascination with them, and he is trying to put the blame on them for it. Maybe he sees himself as being sarcastic when he describes their luring him. I don't pick up sarcasm from it, but it could be there.

Roger, you are sensing a revulsion that I pick up too in Rilke's portrayal of the old women. I don't have to understand why he feels as he does. For the purposes of the poem, I just have to pick up his signals and make of them what I can. I agree with you that he is being rather obscure here, and I am not sure that he himself understands why he finds these women fascinating.

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