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  #1  
Unread 04-17-2019, 08:59 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Pietà

Pietà

Thus, Jesus, I behold your feet again
that were a young man’s feet when I, with fear,
stripped them of their shoes and washed them down;
how they stood, entangled in my hair
like a white stag within a bush of brier.

Thus I behold your never-cherished limbs
in this, our night of love, and not before.
We never lay in one another’s arms,
and now I’ll only watch you and admire.

But, look, beloved, your poor hands are torn—
and not by me, not love-bites of my own.
Your heart stands wide for all to enter in:
it should have been a door for me alone.

You’re weary, and your weary mouth has now
no longing for my mouth, that aches for you.
O Jesus, Jesus, when was our time? How
curiously we’re perishing, we two.


Pietà

So seh ich, Jesus, deine Füße wieder,
die damals eines Jünglings Füße waren,
da ich sie bang entkleidete und wusch;
wie standen sie verwirrt in meinen Haaren
und wie ein weißes Wild im Dornenbusch.

So seh ich deine niegeliebten Glieder
zum erstenmal in dieser Liebesnacht.
Wir legten uns noch nie zusammen nieder,
und nun wird nur bewundert und gewacht.

Doch, siehe, deine Hände sind zerrissen -:
Geliebter, nicht von mir, von meinen Bissen.
Dein Herz steht offen und man kann hinein:
das hätte dürfen nur mein Eingang sein.

Nun bist du müde, und dein müder Mund
hat keine Lust zu meinem wehen Munde -.
O Jesus, Jesus, wann war unsre Stunde?
Wie gehn wir beide wunderlich zugrund.


Literal translation:
Pietà

Thus I see, Jesus, your feet again,
that once were a young man’s feet,
when I, with fear, bared and washed them;
how they stood tangled in my hair
and like a white deer in a thornbush.

Thus I see your never-loved limbs
for the first time in this love-night.
We never yet laid ourselves down together,
and now you will be only admired and watched over.

But, look, your hands are torn--:
beloved, not by me, by my bites.
Your heart stands open and anyone can enter:
that should have been my entrance only.

Now you are tired, and your weary mouth
has no desire for my aching mouth—.
O Jesus, Jesus, when was our time?
How strangely we both are perishing.
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  #2  
Unread 04-17-2019, 04:17 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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This is gorgeous, Susan. Even though, as you know, I'm not fond of the whole notion that human love has to be erotic on some level in order to be authentic and passionate, grumble grumble grumble. Rilke clearly thought otherwise.*

I assume that Rilke intended this poem as a companion piece to "The Risen"?

Anyway, I applaud your handling of it.


* Okay, I do have to admit that the eyewitnesses certainly seem to have interpreted the sensuality of the foot-washing scene as shockingly erotic. In fact, the perceived sexual impropriety of that incident seems to have been the deal-breaker that made Judas decide to betray Jesus. At least in Matthew's and Mark's versions of the story. (John's version of it claims that Judas was simply interested in the money that could have been raised by selling the perfume instead of "wasting" it in this way, and accuses Judas of embezzlement; Luke's keeps the prudish response, but ascribes it to a non-disciple.)

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-17-2019 at 04:21 PM.
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Unread 04-17-2019, 10:51 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, "Pietà" is in book one of New Poems and "The Risen" is in book two, so the latter was probably written well after the former. However, I do think that Rilke was thinking of the Magdalene of "Pietà" when he wrote "The Risen." The two works play off one another.

Susan
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Unread Yesterday, 01:04 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Yes, each really enhances the reading of the other. I would recommend trying to publish them together (initially).

The image of the white stag within a bush of brier is hauntingly powerful. Can't get it out of my head.
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Unread Yesterday, 03:25 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Susan,

Well, the German is tremendously simple. I think you've mostly got that in your English, though where you have "our night of love" and Rilke has "dieser Liebesnacht" I feel you've overdetermined his meaning. His rhyme scheme is weird, which gives you a certain leeway. I think the white stag in the bush of brier may be my favorite moment in your rendering as well - quite lovely.
This is basically fine work, as always. Thank you for sharing your insight and imagination.

Cheers,
John
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Unread Yesterday, 01:15 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, am I wrong in thinking that "dieser Liebesnacht" is ironic, in that the only kind of love available to them on this night is her grief over his dead body, but that she is suggesting also that it is also the only night they have spent together, just the two of them?

Susan
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  #7  
Unread Today, 12:44 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Susan,

I agree with you from Magdalene's perspective. However, as we've noted before, Rilke likes ambiguity, and from Jesus's perspective, this night (without a possessive pronoun) is that of His love for the world, expressing itself not in sex but in death.

Cheers,
John
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  #8  
Unread Today, 08:35 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, but Mary Magdalene is speaking, so she is presenting the night from her point of view. I think "night of love" is as ambiguous as "love night," if you choose to look at the night from Jesus's point of view.

Susan
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  #9  
Unread Today, 08:55 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Susan,

I agree, Mary Magdalene is speaking. But I think "in dieser Liebesnacht" resonates with the information that God so loved the world, etc., as it says in John 3:16. This adds a somewhat savage irony to the monologue. It may escape Mary (I'll try not to mindread) but it doesn't escape us, or Rilke would rather it not do so. This the word "our" elides, and that's my little point here.

Cheers,
John
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Unread Today, 07:25 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
I don't get around much... Julie alerted me to this translation and I've read it with my jaw dropping, as I do most times I read Rilke.

I have followed your translations of Rilke's poems here and am hoping you will publish them. Rilke's passionate visions are superior in every way to my own humble ones; but ones that give me such light and understanding that I feel very close to him.
Thanks yet again for the lightness of your touch in translating a poet with the same. I hug the messenger who brought him to me.
x
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