Eratosphere Forums - Metrical Poetry, Free Verse, Fiction, Art, Critique, Discussions Able Muse - a review of poetry, prose and art

Forum Left Top

Notices

Reply
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Unread 08-30-2019, 08:55 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,108
Default Rilke, A Sibyl

A Sibyl
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Once, ages back, they used to call her old.
But she remained and wandered the same street
each day. Then, people changed the measurement,
counting her age—as if she were a wood—

by centuries. Yet nonetheless she stood
every evening at the same locale,
as blackened as an ancient citadel,
tall and hollow and burnt-out inside,

from the words she could not guard herself against,
which multiplied in her against her will
and wheeled around her, screaming all the while,
as those already come back home to roost
again beneath her eyebrows’ arches sat,
foreboding, finished for the night.


Revisions:
S2L3 "cried" was "screeched"
S3 was:
as words she could not guard herself against,
which multiplied within her, like it or not,
constantly wheeled around her and cried out,
while those already come back home to roost
again beneath her eyebrows’ arches sat,
foreboding, finished for the night.


Eine Sibylle

Einst, vor Zeiten, nannte man sie alt.
Doch sie blieb und kam dieselbe Straße
täglich. Und man änderte die Maße,
und man zählte sie wie einen Wald

nach Jahrhunderten. Sie aber stand
jeden Abend auf derselben Stelle,
schwarz wie eine alte Zitadelle,
hoch und hohl und ausgebrannt;

von den Worten, die sich unbewacht
wider ihren Willen in ihr mehrten,
immerfort umschrieen und umflogen,
während die schon wieder heimgekehrten
dunkel unter ihren Augenbogen
saßen, fertig für die Nacht.


Literal translation:
A Sibyl

Once, ages ago, people called her old.
But she remained and came along the same street
every day. And people altered the measurement,
and counted her age, like a forest,

by centuries. But she stood
every evening at the same place,
black as an ancient citadel,
tall and hollow and burnt-out,

as the words, unguarded against,
multiplied in her against her will,
constantly screaming out and flying around,
while those already come home again
under her eyebrows’ arches darkly
sat, finished for the night.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 08-30-2019 at 05:14 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Unread 08-30-2019, 09:13 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 4,868
Default

Hi Susan,

A poem I'm very fond of. Thank you for your Englishing of it.
I'm very happy until the tercets. Here you go:

which multiplied within her, like it or not,
constantly wheeled around her and screeched out,
while those already come back home to roost
again beneath her eyebrows’ arches sat,
foreboding, finished for the night.

So, my little niggling thoughts.
Can a person say "like or not"? I'd like the music better, and you'd avoid the cliche.
Screeched I don't like much, and schrieen isn't quite that, to me. Could "cried out" do your job, or something along those lines?
Fertig to me may be better rendered by ready than by finished - to my mind, it focuses on the future, not the past.
Anyway, yes. I think this is a great poem, and you've made it available to folks who don't read German. A worthy task.

Cheers,
John
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Unread 08-30-2019, 09:48 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,108
Default

John, thanks for your thoughts. I don't think anyone says "like or not," and I prefer to keep the wording natural. I have tried changing "screeched" to "cried," though I am trying to evoke crows or similar birds of ill omen, and "screeched" sounded more like the cries they make. I think "ready for the night" sounds too restful for the context. With "finished for the night" I hoped to suggest that they would be starting up again the following evening and that they continue to project a sense of menace.

Susan
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Unread 08-30-2019, 10:56 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,061
Default

Perhaps "black-clad" instead of "blackened"? "Blackened" makes me think "soot-covered," which might be true for the old citadel, but I think the woman is merely dressed in black, and is not necessarily dirty. Maybe it doesn't matter that much, but it gave me pause.

I find "like it or not" problematical, because to me it implies that sometimes she does "like" the words to multiply within her; the crib makes it clear that this public raving is not just out of her control, but completely against her will. She doesn't want to be doing this. That helplessness makes her a sympathetic--or just pathetic--human figure instead of an evil witch. The malevolence is on the part of the words that possess her, rather than on her own part.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Unread 08-30-2019, 05:22 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,108
Default

Julie, I think the metaphor of the citadel implies one that has been burned, and that we are to see the sibyl not as clad in black, but so darkly tanned and wizened by the centuries that she herself looks blackened and burnt up. I have tried rewriting the last six lines of the poem to get "against her will" in there. Finding a rhyme for that phrase was the hardest part. Thanks for your suggestions.

Susan
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Unread 08-30-2019, 05:41 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 4,868
Default

Hi Susan,

Glad to see like it or not gone. Your new solution seems a propos.

Cheers,
John

Oh hey - I agree with you about the sibyl and black. That's how I read it, and clearly the citadel is ausgebrannt.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Unread 08-30-2019, 07:06 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,061
Default

Huh! Okay. I'll recalibrate my mental image of her....

[Edited to say: But but but...just how "blackened" can a fair-skinned Northern European person get through tanning? I still think it's more likely to be grime than melanoma. That makes no difference to the translation though.]

I like the new "against her will" and "all the while" bit, and the clear presence of three rhymes in the sestet; the previous version seemed to me as if there were only two.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 08-30-2019 at 07:30 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Unread 08-31-2019, 07:13 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,108
Default

Julie, I am imagining the Cumaean sibyl in this poem. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, she is described as being seven hundred years old and she says she will have to live another three hundred years before she dies. T. S. Eliot famously quotes Petronius in a passage in which boys taunt the sibyl and ask "What do you want, sibyl?" and she replies "I want to die." So I think you should picture someone so shriveled that she looks like a walking skeleton. As for the dark skin, Michelangelo depicts the Cumaean sibyl as being wrinkled and with much darker skin than the other sibyls (though, of course, she is also incredibly muscular in his version). So I think you should take "blackened" as metaphorical rather than literal.

Susan
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Unread 08-31-2019, 07:58 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 4,868
Default

Julie, I think it was a slip of the pen in which you pictured the sibyl as northern European. She'd be a bit darker than that. It might be worth adding that before Coco Chanel, really, having a tan was frowned upon by folks like Rilke, for instance. This is old news, but Voltaire in Candide explains how Cunegonde is now terrifically ugly because she's got a tan. Candide of course marries her anyway, true to his promise.

Cheers,
John
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Unread 09-01-2019, 12:15 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,061
Default

But John, the horror of having their fair skin acquire a socially unacceptable tan is precisely why women of Rilke's time generally wore hats and veils if they could afford them.

Which, unlike human skin, could be--and often were--literally soot-black.

You and Susan may be right that Rilke meant to evoke one particular sibyl of legend and literature, and the bit near the poem's beginning about her age being calculated in centuries seems to support that. And it's interesting that one particular sibyl may have been traditionally regarded as dark-skinned.

But very few people anywhere on the planet have skin dark enough to be compared to soot without exaggeration. Francisco Quevedo's "Boda de negros" lampoon compares an enslaved African bride and groom to all sorts of literally black things (ink, lampblack, hat dye, et al.), for comic effect, but Rilke's poem is more serious and realistic, so I don't think he would be depicting tanned or dark brown skin as literally soot-black.

In contrast, there's no shortage of women clad in black from head to toe in this speed-corrected and sound-enhanced film footage from Paris, 1890s - 1900. Granted, these are women of a certain class-conscious socioeconomic status, and none of them seem to be raving. But it's still easy for me to picture Rilke encountering a tall, agitated, mentally ill woman dressed all in black, whom he might be inspired to compare to a legendary sibyl and a burnt-out citadel.

When my own mentally ill father escapes his minders and/or my mother--which he manages to do with appalling regularity--he paces the street he lives on, compulsively talking to himself and to his hallucinations as much as to alarmed passersby, unable to sneak back (as he usually says he intended to do) after having sneaked out, because he can't remember which house is his.

In the poem, I'm picturing a female, contemporary-with-Rilke equivalent to my dad.

I may, of course, be utterly wrong as to Rilke's intentions. But ambiguity that leaves the reader struggling for meaning (or struggling to reconcile conflicting meanings) is characteristic of Rilke.
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump



Forum Right Top
Forum Left Bottom Forum Right Bottom
 
Right Left
Member Login
Forgot password?
Forum LeftForum Right


Forum Statistics:
Forum Members: 8,011
Total Threads: 19,857
Total Posts: 254,042
There are 104 users
currently browsing forums.
Forum LeftForum Right


Forum Sponsor:
Donate & Support Able Muse / Eratosphere
Forum LeftForum Right
Right Right
Right Bottom Left Right Bottom Right

Hosted by ApplauZ Online