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  #1  
Unread 01-16-2019, 02:52 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, Gravestone of a Young Girl

Gravestone of a Young Girl
by Rainer Maria Rilke

We still recall. It is as if all this
must someday be once more.
Like a slim tree along the lemon shore,
you bore your small light breasts
into his swift blood’s roar—

that god’s.
.....................It was the slender
fugitive, the woman-cherisher.
Warm as your fancies, amorous and tender,
overshadowing your youthful thighs
and arching like your brows.


Grabmal eines jungen Mädchens

Wir gedenkens noch. Das ist, als müßte
alles dieses einmal wieder sein.
Wie ein Baum an der Limonenküste
trugst du deine kleinen leichten Brüste
in das Rauschen seines Bluts hinein:

– jenes Gottes.
.....................Und es war der schlanke
Flüchtling, der verwöhnende der Fraun.
Süß und glühend, warm wie dein Gedanke,
überschattend deine frühe Flanke
und geneigt wie deine Augenbraun.


Literal translation:
Grave Monument of a Young Girl

We still remember. It is as if
all this must someday be again.
Like a tree on the lemon coast
you bore your small light breasts
into the rushing of his blood:

—that god’s.
.....................And it was the slim
refugee, the pamperer of women.
Sweet and ardent, warm as your thought,
overshadowing your young thighs
and arched like your eyebrows.
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  #2  
Unread 01-16-2019, 03:00 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Yup, another fine poem in German turned into a fine poem in English. Well done!
For muesste, which after all is subjunctive, I might try "should." That's about my only suggestion. Just to note that the Limonenkueste will I think remind any German of Mignons Lied: "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen bluehen?", and that the god may be Hermes - the Psychagog, as Thomas Mann calls him. As also in Rilke's "Orpheus-Eurydike-Hermes."

Cheers,
John

Update: or is it Euridike?
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  #3  
Unread 01-16-2019, 04:47 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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John, I am on the fence about "must" versus "should" in L2. The first sounds more emphatic to me, less hypothetical. I spent some time puzzling out who the fugitive god would be. Several candidates presented themselves, but I think the likeliest "woman-cherisher" is Cupid, who, in the tale of Cupid and Psyche in Apuleius, flees his angry mother Venus, who has ordered him to kill Psyche, and secretly visits Psyche at night, while during the day she is pampered by invisible servants. As the story plays out, she winds up dead, after searching for him, and then is granted immortality by the gods so that they can be together forever. The image of the god arching over the young girl reminded me of this statue in the Louvre, which I assume Rilke saw:

http://musee.louvre.fr/oal/psyche/psyche_acc_en.html

Susan
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Unread 01-16-2019, 05:00 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Ah, the Canova - what a tremendous statue that is!
Yes, your Cupid theory is quite possible IMO. He was indeed a woman-cherisher, and slender, in Canova's statue for instance.

Regards,
John

Update: just to say that the subjunctive is, precisely, a hypothetical mood.
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Unread 01-16-2019, 05:24 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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John, what I am trying for is a feeling that the events are both hypothetical and fated. It might seem merely wishful to say that this may happen again; I get the feeling that Rilke means it has to happen again. Rilke often gives me the impression of trying to create contradictions that are both true at the same time.

Susan
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  #6  
Unread 01-16-2019, 05:47 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I agree with your take on Rilke's method, Susan.
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Unread 01-16-2019, 08:53 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I take your point that Rilke was often ambiguous, with a few contradictory meanings somehow both being true. That said, though, to me the god referred to as "the refugee" or "the fugitive" in the poem looks a lot more like Hermes the Boundary-Crosser than like Cupid, despite the imagery of erotic love. I think that the god's seduction of this young woman, and of other young women, is simply a metaphor for their dying (and therefore accompanying Hermes--a psychopomp--into the netherworld).

If I'm wrong, and the poem's focus on the anatomical charms and sexual passivity of a girl who died young isn't a death metaphor...well, then Rilke comes off looking awfully insensitive to a poignant situation, doesn't he? "A young woman died, so let me fantasize about her breasts and thighs and about her having sex." Not a good look.

Granted, Rilke was an astonishingly self-absorbed jerk in real life, on multiple occasions. But I don't think that in this poem he's taking a young woman's gravestone as an excuse to meditate on the sex lives of teenaged girls. And of a god depicted as a connoisseur of them.

(Yes, I know that Psyche and Cupid's whole relationship is metaphorical/allegorical, too. But still.)

This image is from a funerary jar rather than a tombstone, but the poem made me think of it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psycho...rhin%C3%A8.jpg

At first I thought "the lemon shore" referred to the Amalfi Coast, but I couldn't find much evidence linking Rilke to that area, and there's tons of it linking him to the Lake Garda area, where there are many lemon groves and even a lakeside town called Limone. Not that the specific details of the tree really matter, but I found it interesting.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 01-16-2019 at 09:10 PM.
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Unread 01-16-2019, 09:02 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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In "Orpheus-Eurydike-Hermes," Rilke refers quite explicitly to the ghost Eurydike's body as Hermes leads her toward the upper world again. Julie, this seems to parallel your theory:

http://www.memory-fish.com/burt/poetry/misc/rilke.html

Cheers,
John
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  #9  
Unread 01-17-2019, 03:03 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie and John, I did not put any identifying characteristics of the god into the poem, but tried to stay literal in my translation of it. So, even though I am convinced that "woman-cherisher" is a much better description of Cupid than of Hermes, readers can choose whatever god they want. The god is some combination of love and death in the context of the poem. Julie, although I agree that Rilke was a jerk in his personal life, in this poem I think he is presenting the union of god and girl not as a rape, but as a happy consummation of those aspects of her that received no expression in life. Rilke is not the only seducer who tends to idealize innocent young girls.

Susan
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  #10  
Unread 01-17-2019, 03:31 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Yes, I like ambiguity and Rilke certainly offers that. Readers get to make their own minds up, which as you say you've respected. For my part, this is just idle chat (about gods), though I do find the topic interesting.

Cheers,
John
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