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  #1  
Unread 12-16-2018, 10:16 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Adam

Adam
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Amazed, he stands on the cathedral’s steep
ascent, close to the window-rose, as though
frightened by the apotheosis now,
which, growing over time, had in a leap

installed him over these and those below.
He stands tall, pleased at having carried on,
simply determined, as the farming man
who had begun and who did not know how

to find, from Eden’s fully ready garden,
a pathway leading out to the new Earth.
God was hard to bring around. He’d threaten

Adam, instead of granting absolution,
warning that he would die, again and again.
Yet still the man persisted: she will give birth.


Adam

Staunend steht er an der Kathedrale
steilem Aufstieg, nah der Fensterrose,
wie erschreckt von der Apotheose,
welche wuchs und ihn mit einem Male

niederstellte über die und die.
Und er ragt und freut sich seiner Dauer
schlicht entschlossen; als der Ackerbauer
der begann, und der nicht wusste, wie

aus dem fertig-vollen Garten Eden
einen Ausweg in die neue Erde
finden. Gott war schwer zu überreden;

und er drohte ihm, statt zu gewähren,
immer wieder, dass er sterben werde.
Doch der Mensch bestand: sie wird gebären.


Literal translation:
Adam

Astonished, he stands at the cathedral’s
steep ascent, near the rose window,
as if scared by the apotheosis,
which grew and all at once

set him down above these and these.
And he towers and is pleased at his own continuance,
simply determined, as the farmer
who began and who did not know how

from the fully ready Garden of Eden
to find a way out into the new Earth.
God was hard to persuade

and, instead of granting, he threatened him
again and again that he would die.
Yet the man persisted: she will give birth.
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  #2  
Unread 12-17-2018, 01:25 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Susan, I assume that this poem is a companion to the Eve-as-depicted-on-the-cathedral poem? Were they published next to each other?

I'm wondering about the ending. If the other sonnet did not exist, with its mention that Eve will give birth, I would suggest that "would" makes more sense than "will," tense-wise, and I would also argue that the virgin territory outside the Garden of Eden is what Adam wanted to make give birth, rather than Eve, who is otherwise absent from this sonnet. But of course the existence of the other sonnet has to affect your translation choices here. Hmmm.
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Unread 12-17-2018, 06:47 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hmm indeed. I see sie wird gebaeren as deliberately ambiguous, meaning both land and consort.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 12-17-2018, 06:50 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Hi Susan,

A couple of observations. As always, I welcome input and correction from better German speakers than I, and the usual caveats about possibly orbiting a lost star.

S1L4 – ‘Male’ is tricky. Yes, it means ‘time’, but it also means ‘mark’ or ‘stigma’. I hear in it Adam’s disobedience, his exercise of freedom, in the Garden.

S2L1 – the antecedents for ‘die und die’ can be read as the Cathedral and rose window. I believe the gender fits, and the case (accusative) can work. In which case, R may be implying that Adam (or humanity) is above both because he made them. I think this generally fits with R’s notion of creativity, of co-creation with God.

S4L3 – I agree with Julie, reading the poem in isolation the natural antecedent for 'sie' is 'die Erde'. Of course, we can’t help but also hear Eve. But I think R is returning to the notion of our (humanity’s) exercise of creativity on the material of Earth. We are godlike (or even God?) in our creativity ... by consequence of our freedom. It's another peculiar Rilkean take on a biblical story.

Hope this helps or is at least provocative. As usual, a delightful selection that I enjoyed.

M

(cross-posted with John)

Last edited by Michael F; 12-17-2018 at 06:54 AM. Reason: crosses
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Unread 12-17-2018, 09:02 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks for the responses.

Julie, the poem "Adam" immediately precedes "Eve" in the second book of New Poems, so they are clearly meant to work together. I would argue that "she will give birth" is meant to be a response to God's threat to Adam that he will die. Adam is saying "Yes, I will die, but my children will go on." So I don't think the idea of the earth bearing is as important as the connection in the reader's mind between Adam and Eve.

John, see my comments above to Julie. I can't rule out a double meaning to the "she," but the allusion to Eve seems uppermost to me.

Michael, with "Male" I can't get the ambiguity into the English, so I have to settle for what I think is the primary meaning of the word. For "die und die" I am picturing the front facade of Notre Dame de Paris, in which the statues of Adam and Eve are standing above a host of other statues, but also above all of the people walking below. I think it is the current and former people that Adam is thinking of, not the cathedral and its window. See my notes to Julie and John about the last line. For me, Rilke seems to be emphasizing how naive and stubborn Adam is, which ties in with portraying him as a simple farming man. The contrast between Adam and Eve in the two poems is an interesting reversal of the more common interpretation (Milton's, for instance), in which Adam is the thinker and Eve is the naive doer.

Susan

Last edited by Susan McLean; 12-17-2018 at 12:15 PM.
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Unread 12-17-2018, 10:54 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Susan McLean View Post
The contrast between Adam and Eve in the two poems is an interesting reversal of the more common interpretation (Milton's, for instance), in which Adam is the thinker and Eve is the naive doer.
Yes, and both of these sonnets by Rilke are a reversal of an attitude that still prevails today, in some quarters: Poor, innocent Adam would still be in Paradise if a woman hadn't dragged him down, and women will still cause misery to all humankind unless men assert absolute authority over them in all things.

In Rilke's scenario, the Expulsion from the Garden is not an unforeseen consequence of another choice, in which Eve played an enormously significant role. Instead, Adam is the one actively choosing to leave Paradise because he's unhappy with the amount of freedom and purpose he has is such a "fully ready garden"; Eve's choice is simply to support Adam's decision to leave, and accompany him in exile.

I can't say I'm overjoyed with all of the implications of Eve's passivity in Rilke's depiction, but I do find his recasting of the situation thought-provoking.

Sorry that I've once again wandered away from commenting on your translation itself, Susan. That's the hazard of working with such fascinating source material.

Returning to your translation, I can't help picturing a literal leap in the "with a leap" bit. I'm still deciding whether or not that really bothers me. "Leap" certainly connotes abrupt, skyward motion, but it also implies a degree of agency by Adam that might not be 100% appropriate for the context. It's probably okay, but I'll think about it some more.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 12-17-2018 at 10:58 AM.
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Unread 12-17-2018, 12:06 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, in my reading of the two poems, Rilke is giving Eve more agency than Adam in the decision to leave Eden. We are told that he did not know how to find his way out of Eden. She is portrayed as holding the apple and "guilty-innocent," so we have to assume that she, who is portrayed as wanting to stay longer in Eden, is the one who figured out how to leave, and that she did it out of love for Adam (though I think there is also a hint that she is choosing change and risk over stasis). The fact that Adam is portrayed as trying to talk God into changing his mind also hints at weakness of purpose in Adam. He wants to leave but then has second thoughts afterwards. The complexity of the portrayal of both is very interesting to me. I could see right off what was going on in "Eve," but it took me some time to figure out "Adam," which is why I did not translate it at the same time.

About the leap, I think it is the apotheosis, not Adam, that had been growing gradually and that suddenly takes a metaphorical leap that deposits him on top of all of mankind and the cathedral. "Apotheosis" is a strange word to use of Adam, who does not turn into a god exactly, though he and Eve are both up at the same level as Mary and the angels on the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Susan
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Unread 12-17-2018, 01:38 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Ah. I like your interpretation of Eve's role much better than mine. And of the growth and leap business, too.
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Unread 12-17-2018, 01:50 PM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Susan,

Yes, ‘die und die’ is ambiguous, I think. "Die" can be feminine singular, or plural.

Another possible reading of the ending is that Adam chose death and freedom over immortality in the pre-fab garden. “She will give birth” is like an in-your-face to God, as if saying “tough beans, the human race in its freedom will go on.” I see this as tied to R’s veneration of creativity, but I know that we sometimes get out of a poem very much what we bring to it.

M
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Unread 12-17-2018, 11:15 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I tend to feel with Rilke that the ambiguities we note in the German were not opaque to him. Though as you argue, Susan, English sometimes has to prioritize.
Interesting discussion.

Cheers,
John
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