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  #1  
Unread 01-22-2019, 01:13 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, In the Drawing Room

In the Drawing Room
by Rainer Maria Rilke

How they are all around us, these fine men
in chamberlains’ attire and lace jabots,
like night around its merit-order star,
ruthlessly growing darker, more obscure,
and these fine ladies, gentle, fragile, but
made massive by their gowns, with one hand in
their laps, as tiny as a lapdog’s collar,
how they’re around us here: around the reader,
around the viewer of these bibelots,
many of which are their possessions yet.

Full of tact, they let us live our life
unhindered, life as we conceive of it
and they do not. They wished to bloom, and that
means to be lovely. We wish to grow ripe,
and that means to be somber and to strive.

Revisions:
S2L3 "do" was "could"
S1L5-6 was "and these fine ladies, gentle, delicate, / but puffed out by their gowns,"


Im Saal

Wie sind sie alle um uns, diese Herrn
in Kammerherrentrachten und Jabots,
wie eine Nacht um ihren Ordensstern
sich immer mehr verdunkelnd, rücksichtslos
und diese Damen, zart, fragile, doch groß
von ihren Kleidern, eine Hand im Schoß,
klein wie ein Halsband für den Bologneser:
wie sind sie da um jeden: um den Leser,
um den Betrachter dieser Bibelots,
darunter manches ihnen noch gehört.

Sie lassen, voller Takt, uns ungestört
das Leben leben wie wir es begreifen
und wie sie's nicht verstehn. Sie wollten blühn,
und blühn ist schön sein; doch wir wollen reifen,
und das heißt dunkel sein und sich bemühn.


Literal translation:
In the Drawing Room

How they are all around us, these gentlemen
in chamberlains’ attire and jabots,
like a night around the star of its order,
becoming ever darker, relentlessly,
and these ladies, soft, delicate, yet made large
by their gowns, with one hand in their laps,
small as a collar for a Bolognese lapdog:
how they are around each of us here: around the reader,
around the viewer of these trinkets,
many of which still belong to them.

Full of tact, they let us, undisturbed,
live life as we understand it
and as they do not understand it. They wished to bloom,
and to bloom is to be beautiful; but we wish to ripen,
and that means to be grave and to take pains.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 01-27-2019 at 07:53 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 01-23-2019, 06:39 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Lovely as ever. I can only imagine the effort involved in looking so effortless in English. The German's nice too, with all those French borrowings - glad you were able to keep a hint of those.
I have two questions, I guess: in "like night around its merit-order star," I read ihren as "their;" and in "und wie sie's nicht verstehn," I read the verb as "and they do not." I see why you've gone for "could," but the double change of verb and tense seems perhaps more than you need here to me.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 01-23-2019, 11:02 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks for your suggestions, John. I have taken the one about changing "could" to "do," and will probably take the other, too, but to me that line was ambiguous. My reason for using "its" was that I pictured a night growing darker around its brightest star (the evening star perhaps), just as the portraits of the men are growing darker around their brightest point, the merit-order stars they wear. Since "nacht" is feminine, "ihren" could mean "her," but in English we don't tend to assign gender to night. However, night does not really have "merit-order" stars, so perhaps the comparison is just of deepening night to the darkening portraits. But I did like the idea of two kinds of star being compared, too.

Susan
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Unread 01-23-2019, 11:37 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

I agree, ihren is ambiguous ,and I think Rilke, like you and me, values that ambiguity. What German allows.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 01-27-2019, 05:24 PM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
sorry to be silent for so long. I enjoyed this. I do have a few small queries.

Perhaps for L5-6, consider something like:
and these fine ladies, gracile, fragile, but
made huge by their grand gowns, with one hand in

It seems to me that your version is a bit tamer in presenting the contrast of the fine ladies with their overblown clothes.

Is L10 as matter of fact in the original? Could it have a bit more of a sting?

You might enjoy this reading (with rather different translation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYA629TBsL4

Also, here there is a suggestion that the first part may have an ekphrastic element: http://www.rilke.de/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2418

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

Martin
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Unread 01-27-2019, 08:00 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Martin, I have tried reworking S1L5-6. I'm not sure what you are suggesting about S1L10 having more sting. I am assuming that the fine men and ladies are in portraits, and that the viewers include their descendants, who own not only the portraits, but also many of the gems that the people in the portraits were wearing.

Susan
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Unread 01-27-2019, 11:06 PM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
I like your new L5&6; they definitely express the contrast between the ladies and their clothes more effectively.

Martin
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Unread 01-27-2019, 11:08 PM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
I think that L10 might have a bit of a sneer at the rich lords and ladies in the original, which your very matter of fact line misses. The emphasis in "are their possessions yet" and "still belong to them" is different. If you could use the phrase "they still own", I think that would be stronger.

Martin
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Unread 01-27-2019, 11:37 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Three suggestions, all of which may miss the mark, so caveat scriptor.

1.) Perhaps you could heighten the first stanza's ominousness, and make the passivity of the second stanza more of a relief, by using the more active "surround" instead of the two "are around"s and that crescendoing series of "around"s.

2.) Starting the second stanza with "Tactfully" might seem less stilted than "Full of tact." (Then again, the pictured people themselves are stilted, so maybe that's just right, after all.)

3.) Changing "They wished to bloom, and that / means to be lovely" to the past tense ("They wished to bloom, and that / meant to be lovely") would emphasize the contrast between these decorative personages trapped in the past and ourselves--we who are free to make different choices, despite having our pictured ancestors' example constantly around, around, around, around, around us.
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Unread 01-28-2019, 01:17 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Martin, I'm glad you think the changes to L5-6 work. I don't hear a sneer in the "still belong to them" because I am assuming that it means the trinkets belong to the descendants now, not to the original owners. Since Rilke often visited the houses of members of the nobility, I think he would hesitate to sneer at the current owners, though perhaps the subtle fun he makes of their ancestors would be acceptable to them.

Julie, I am trying to be invisible as a translator, so whenever I can, I want to replicate the effect of the original wording rather than add new twists. I did experiment with "surround," but it added a feeling of agency to the portraits that I think Rilke was not suggesting. I also tried "tactfully," which works perfectly well, but the stilted quality of "full of tact" again sounded more like the original. I would hesitate most to change the tense of "means" to "meant." I think Rilke is suggesting that "to bloom" always means "to be lovely," and not that it used to mean that.

Susan
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