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Old 06-19-2018, 12:29 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, The Last Evening

The Last Evening (latest revision)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Night and a distant rumbling, for the line
of the whole army passed the park. He raised
his eyes then from the harpsichord and gazed
across at her as he kept playing on,

almost like staring in a looking glass,
so filled with his young features, and attuned
to how her face would bear his own distress,
lovely and more seductive with each sound.

But suddenly it was as though that blurred:
she swayed in the window niche as if in trouble
and clasped her urgent heart that pounded hard.

He broke off. From outside the wind blew cool.
And strangely foreign on the mirror-table
stood the black shako with the silver skull.

Revisions:
L3 "eyes then" was "focus" was "eyes, though"
L6 added comma after "features"
L7 "her face would bear" was "they would reflect"


The Last Evening (revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Night and distant rumbling, for the line
of troops moved past the park grounds. But he raised
his eyes from the harpsichord and carried on
with playing as across at her he gazed

almost as one stares in a looking-glass,
so very filled with his young features and
aware of how they’d bear his own distress,
lovely and more seductive with each sound.

But suddenly it was as though that blurred:
she stood in the window niche as if with trouble
and held back her fraught heart from pounding hard.

He broke off. From outside the wind blew cool.
And strangely foreign on the mirror-table
stood the black shako with the silver skull.

Revision:
Removed "And" at the start of L1
L1 "distant travel" was "traveling far off" was "distant rumbling." Returned to "distant rumbling"
L1-2 changed "for the train / of the army passed" to "for the line / of troops moved past"
L3 "harpsichord" was "clavichord"
L4 "with" added before "playing"
L7 "aware of" was "knowing"


The Last Evening
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Night and distant rumbling, for the train
of the whole army passed the park. He raised
his eyes, though, from the clavichord, and gazed
across at her, as he kept playing on,

almost like staring in a looking-glass,
so filled with his young features hers were, and
so knowing, as they bore his own distress,
lovely and more seductive with each sound.

But suddenly it was as though that blurred:
she stood in the window niche, as if with trouble,
and held her urgent heart that pounded hard.

He broke off. From outside the wind blew cool.
And strangely foreign on the mirror-table
stood the black shako with the silver skull.


Note: a shako is a tall military cap that would have a badge on the front, identifying the army or regiment. This one has a skull or skull and bones insignia, but the material that the badge is made of is not specified in the poem.


Letzter Abend

Und Nacht und fernes Fahren; denn der Train
des ganzen Heeres zog am Park vorüber.
Er aber hob den Blick vom Clavecin
und spielte noch und sah zu ihr hinüber

beinah wie man in einen Spiegel schaut:
so sehr erfüllt von seinen jungen Zügen
und wissend, wie sie seine Trauer trügen,
schön und verführender bei jedem Laut.

Doch plötzlich wars, als ob sich das verwische:
sie stand wie mühsam in der Fensternische
und hielt des Herzens drängendes Geklopf.

Sein Spiel gab nach. Von draußen wehte Frische.
Und seltsam fremd stand auf dem Spiegeltische
Der schwarze Tschako mit dem Totenkopf.


Literal translation:
Last Evening

And night and distant traveling; for the train
of the whole army went past the park.
But he raised his eyes from the clavichord
and played still and looked across at her

almost as one looks in a mirror:
so very filled with his young features
and knowing how they'd bear his sorrow,
lovely and more seductive with each sound.

Yet suddenly it was as if that blurred:
she stood as if with difficulty in the window niche
and held the urgent beating of her heart.

His playing gave way. From outside a cool wind blew.
And strangely alien on the mirror-table stood
the black shako with the death’s-head.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 07-07-2018 at 01:29 AM.
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  #2  
Old 06-19-2018, 08:49 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

More hard and elegant work, which you make look effortless; but this isn't one of my favorites of your Rilke pieces, I think. I'll try to tell you why.
First and globally, you've had to put in a bunch of clausal breaks which Rilke was able to do without. Line after line of his beats unbroken to the line's end, where yours is constantly interrupted. That may be unavoidable, but I think it's regrettable, it changes his music.
Then I have a couple of minor nits.
I'd start with "And", to mirror Rilke's startling and Biblical debut.
In the line "so knowing, as they bore his own distress," Rilke lacks your second "so", and truegen is the subjunctive, I believe (it's not "trugen").
This line, "and held her urgent heart that pounded hard," I don't think works in English. It suggests she has removed her heart from her chest to me, unlike the German.
So, my nits I think are fixable if you happen to agree with them. But I'm not sure the clausal breaks can be removed. They make me hesitate about this rendering, given your usual very high standards. I think it's good, with some lovely touches, but not flawless.

Cheers,
John
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Old 06-20-2018, 10:22 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, I took your suggestions to try to break up the lines less with clauses and to clarify the tense of "trügen." I am not fond of Rilke's extremely frequent use of "und," so I tend to try to eliminate some of them and also to vary the rhythms of the lines a bit more than he does. I have tried to pull back from my own tastes in this version and adapt more to his own style. But I am on the fence about the effects and would like to hear from others about which version they prefer. I wasn't sure whether the woman in the poem literally presses her hand to her heart or whether the struggle is more internal. I have tried going with the latter in the latest version.

Susan
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Old 06-20-2018, 12:22 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Good evening Susan,

I like all your revisions except to S1, where I stand corrected: I prefer your original, and think like you that And to begin is more awkward in English than in German. My memory is that Luther uses it thus quite a bit in his Bibeluebersetzung.

Cheers,
John
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Old 06-20-2018, 12:44 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks for your response, John. I have taken out the "And" at the start of the first line, after hearing that you also found it awkward. English and German have different conventions, so sometimes the word-for-word translating is not the best choice.

Susan
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Old 06-20-2018, 12:54 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Sehr wahr.

John
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Old 06-22-2018, 02:56 AM
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Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
Thanks for another Rilke translation. I appreciate how the revision has removed the starts and stops enforced by the first version's punctuation, but the last line of S1 is too contorted for my taste.

The rest reads very smoothly; would it be too much to replace "silver skull" with "grinning skull"--death head carries a bit of extra menace that you could try to capture.

Thanks for the read!
Martin
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Old 06-22-2018, 04:43 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Hi Susan - This Rilke original certainly has its challenges right from the first line which, all on its own, underlines how, for both of us, I'm sure, the translating of poetry must become an act of re-creation. On that first line, all our usual and continuing disagreements aside, I do feel that it needs the sense of distance covered/left behind and not just the sound of a journey - so a small voice here for getting the word 'travelling' or some equivalent back in the mix.

Most of all, however, I really wanted to tell you that I have found your sequence of Rilke poems particularly well-chosen. They have sent me to his work as never before and I think you have a real eye/ear(?) for the most interesting - and so my own 'collection' is growing. I've recently added his Archaic Torso of Apollo to my own translations... and I've started to look back at some of your earlier contributions to this board which, inexplicably, I seem to have missed. Thank you again for all of them and for the the stimulus of your example.
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Old 06-22-2018, 06:02 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Just to second Nigel's remark. I've loved Rilke for some time, and you continue to select poems I don't know well.

Thank you,
John
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Old 06-23-2018, 01:13 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Susan!

I've been circling this for a few days. It's lovely.

I'm a little confused about the second sentence. My German is non-existent, but I wonder if "her" in L4 would be better put as "hers," with an implied reference to her eyes. Otherwise, there is no antecedent to "they'd" in L7.

I'm still not sure about the standing-as-if-with-trouble and holding-back-her-heart bits. I'll keep thinking about them.

I would prefer "stood the (something) shako with the skull" to "stood the black shako with the (something) skull."
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