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Unread 11-16-2019, 07:45 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,232
Default Rilke, Offering

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Oh, how my body blooms from every vein
more fragrantly since I’ve discovered you.
Look: I’m becoming slimmer—straighter, too—
and you’re just holding back: who are you, then?

Look: I feel I’m parting from myself,
as if I’m shedding old ways, leaf by leaf.
Nothing remains but, like pure stars, your smile
above you and above me soon, as well.

Everything that through my childhood years
was shining, nameless yet and bright as water,
I want to name with your name at the altar,
which is ignited by your hair and wears
your breasts like airy garlands made of flowers.


O wie blüht mein Leib aus jeder Ader
duftender, seitdem ich dich erkenn;
sieh, ich gehe schlanker und gerader,
und du wartest nur-: wer bist du denn?

Sieh: ich fühle, wie ich mich entferne,
wie ich Altes, Blatt um Blatt, verlier.
Nur dein Lächeln steht wie lauter Sterne
über dir und bald auch über mir.

Alles was durch meine Kinderjahre
namenlos noch und wie Wasser glänzt,
will ich nach dir nennen am Altare,
der entzündet ist von deinem Haare
und mit deinen Brüsten leicht bekränzt.

Literal translation:

Oh how my body blooms from every vein
more fragrantly, since I have come to know you;
look, I am becoming slimmer and straighter,
and you only wait: who are you then?

Look: I feel as if I am leaving myself,
as if I am shedding the old ways, leaf by leaf.
Nothing but your smile remains, like pure stars,
above you and soon above me as well.

Everything that was, through my childhood years,
still nameless and shining like water,
I want to name after you at the altar,
which is ignited by your hair
and lightly garlanded with your breasts.
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Unread 11-17-2019, 10:53 AM
Spindleshanks's Avatar
Spindleshanks Spindleshanks is offline
Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Australia
Posts: 1,059

Susan, the translation is hard to fault as far as I can tell; also difficult to define what is happening here. The title (also possibly translated as "victim") along with the reference to an altar suggests human sacrifice, but it's really beyond my grasp.

If I were to nitpick, it would be with the matching of years/wears with flowers. I give flowers two syllables, with the second syllable clearly falling. Whereas years/wears can slide under the radar as slant, my ear pings at flowers. But it may be due to regional differences in pronunciation, though it's usually the Australian speech that wears the accusation of being lazy.

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Unread 11-17-2019, 01:36 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,232

Peter, as I understand the poem, it is conflating two different meanings of the altar, as a place in which one makes an offering to the gods and as the place where one gets married. He is casting himself as the sacrificial offering and the woman in question as the goddess/person he is marrying. But there is a strange gender switch as well, in which he implies that he wants to take her name and is totally giving up his own life to her. Her smile has somehow been transferred to the heavens and he wants to live under its influence. In ancient times, altars were decorated with garlands, and there was a fire on the altar for burning parts of the sacrificial animal. Yet here the fire is her hair and her breasts are the garlands. It is a very sensual kind of union that is being celebrated.

The rhyme of "flowers" is problematic, but one can see it either as a slant rhyme with "years/wears" if one thinks of it as elided into one syllable, or as a slant rhyme with "water/altar" if one hears it as two. I know that it is very slant either way, but I haven't found a good alternative.

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