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Unread 12-31-2018, 09:17 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, From the Life of a Saint

From the Life of a Saint
by Rainer Maria Rilke

He knew anxieties whose coming on
was like a death and not to be withstood.
His heart learned to pass through them at a plod;
he brought it up just like a son.

He knew unspeakable adversity,
as dark and dawnless as a dungeon cell,
and yielded up his soul obediently,
when it was fully grown, that it might dwell

beside its lord and bridegroom, while he stayed
behind alone in such a stark location
that loneliness made all things magnified,
and lived far off, not needing conversation.

But in return, as years and years went by,
he learned the blessings of his situation,
so that he felt a tenderness, to lie
cradled in his own hands, like all creation.


Revisions:
S1L3 was "His heart learned to pass through at a slow plod;"
S2L1 was "He came to know unnamed adversity,"
S3L2 removed comma after "alone"


Aus dem Leben eines Heiligen

Er kannte Ängste, deren Eingang schon
wie Sterben war und nicht zu überstehen.
Sein Herz erlernte, langsam durchzugehen;
er zog es groß wie einen Sohn.

Und namenlose Nöte kannte er,
finster und ohne Morgen wie Verschläge;
und seine Seele gab er folgsam her,
da sie erwachsen war, auf dass sie läge

bei ihrem Bräutigam und Herrn; und blieb
allein zurück an einem solchen Orte,
wo das Alleinsein alles übertrieb,
und wohnte weit und wollte niemals Worte.

Aber dafür, nach Zeit und Zeit, erfuhr
er auch das Glück, sich in die eignen Hände,
damit er eine Zärtlichkeit empfände,
zu legen wie die ganze Kreatur.


Literal translation:
For the Life of a Saint

He knew anxieties whose very arrival
was like dying and not to be survived.
His heart learned to go through slowly;
he brought it up like a son.

And he knew nameless hardships,
dark and without morning like cells;
and he gave up his soul obediently here,
when it was grown up, so that it might dwell

beside its bridegroom and lord; and stayed
behind alone in such a place
that the loneliness exaggerated everything,
and dwelled far away and never desired words.

But in return, after much time, he learned
also the good fortune of being in his own hands,
so that he felt a tenderness,
lying there, like the whole of creation.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 01-05-2019 at 07:33 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 12-31-2018, 10:34 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Susan,

I think this is very well done. I don't see any deviation from the meaning, and you've followed the rhyme scheme and the metric variations (S1's envelope rhyme and L4's tetrameter). I particularly liked the sound of, "as dark and dawnless as a dungeon cell".

I didn't know this poem, which I like a lot, so I'm grateful for being introduced to it.

I wonder about the comma in the S3L2. Could it be lost? It seems slightly unwieldy as a parenthetic clause ("in such a stark location that loneliness made all things magnified"), and perhaps easier to follow without -- especially given that you don't having the semicolon in S3L1 to simplify things. Alternatively, if it needs to be parenthetical, would it be clearer enclosed in em-dashes?

Also, I guess, there's the 'stayed'/'magnified' rhyme, which is a fair bit weaker than your other rhymes. Can you do something with "abide"? (I don't know what though).

best,

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 12-31-2018 at 10:54 AM. Reason: typo
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Unread 12-31-2018, 02:57 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Matt, I have removed the comma, but have not been able to find a good alternative so far to the "stayed/magnified" rhyme. I will keep thinking about it. I usually have more slant rhymes, so that no one slant is as conspicuous.

Susan
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Unread 12-31-2018, 03:56 PM
Jason Ringler Jason Ringler is offline
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Hi, Susan


I appreciate your Rilke translations. I never read his work until I found your posts, but I find myself reading each new one and enjoying them. I don't have any critiques, just wanted you to know. Rilke is such a unique writer.
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Unread 01-02-2019, 06:19 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Hi Susan,

Very fine work, again. Another peek at R’s spirituality in this one, and what distinguishes him – who led a very monkish life – from those in the habit.

A few thoughts:

S2L1 – ‘namenlose’ for me has the sense of ‘unspeakable’

S2L2 – ‘Verschlag’ in German also has the meaning of ‘glory hole’ (in the mining sense!!) which I think works brilliantly with thrust of this poem, as it were. It may not be possible to convey in English.

S3L4 – ‘wohnte weit’ carries something of the sense of ‘vast’ or ‘broad’ which I think gels with R’s sense of intuition, mystical/religious and poetic. Again, “Fortschritt” comes to mind.

S4 – You do an elegant job with this. I’d only signal that ‘eignen’ also has the sense also of ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar’, and the reciprocal union of the saint with the divine, so gorgeously depicted here, echoes to me the saying of the Upanishads, Thou art that. Whether it’s an independent discovery, or whether R actually knew it (perhaps through Schopenhauer or Lou?), I hear it strongly here.

Thanks, Susan. Happy New Year!

M

Last edited by Michael F; 01-02-2019 at 06:23 AM. Reason: nitty nits
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Unread 01-02-2019, 07:19 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Just to say the Germans did a fair bit of work on Indian thought in the C19th, for instance the Schlegels and Rueckert. German translations were available. Schopenhauer swam in that river, and Nietzsche too, of course; Rilke had options and sources to hand. :-)

Cheers,
John
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Unread 01-02-2019, 09:56 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Jason, I too am discovering Rilke after years of paying very little attention to him. I am glad you are enjoying these.

Michael, thanks for your suggestion of "unspeakable," which I have adopted. I think that "glory hole" may be unfamiliar to too many readers, so I would rather stay with something they can immediately picture. In S3 we are still in Rilke's list of the saint's privations, so I don't want to give "weit" a more positive twist. In S4, I felt I had to pick the meaning that was uppermost, so I will stick with "own" for "eignen." Readers will bring their own philosophies to Rilke's poems, so I suspect that each one will find different nuances there.

John, your background in German thought is wider than mine. I am always interested to hear your thoughts on what Rilke may be referring to.

Susan
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Unread 01-02-2019, 02:09 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

It's true, the PhD required a fair bit of reading in German thought. Might as well put it to use!
Also, I continue to enjoy these, like most of your commenters. :-)

Regards,
John
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Unread 01-04-2019, 11:03 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I wonder if the more ambiguous "Life of a Holy One" would work better than "Life of a Saint," because the son and creation hint ever so slightly (to me, anyway) that this reclusive protagonist might actually be God.

[Edited to say: Nah, I guess the "lord and bridegroom" for the soul bit doesn't make sense if the protagonist is God. It's a pretty standard religious image, dating back to the Song of Solomon, to portray the soul as the bride of God/Christ. So never mind.]

If you're going to use the word "plod," I think it's important for the meter to plod along regularly in L3; currently it stumbles a bit, which clashes with the image conveyed. Starting with "His heart learned how to..." rather than "His heart learned to" might smooth things out. (Obviously you'll need to tinker with the rest of the line to make that work, but I know you like to figure out your own solutions, so I won't suggest anything specific.)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 01-05-2019 at 02:33 AM.
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Unread 01-05-2019, 07:37 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks, Julie. I have tried to change that line to make it less bumpy, though I am not sure that I need to replicate the plodding in the line. One can write about tedium without being tedious. I think that, as in many of Rilke's poems, there is a hidden self-portrait in what is purportedly about someone else.

Susan
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