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Old 04-22-2018, 09:35 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,588
Default Rilke, Remembering

by Rainer Maria Rilke

And you wait, you await the one moment
that will make your life greater by far,
the event, uncommon and potent,
the coming-awake of stones,
depths opening up to your view.

In the bookcase dimly glimmer
the volumes in golds and browns,
and you think of the lands you’ve passed through,
of pictures, of outfits and gowns
of women you lost long before.

And you suddenly know: it was there.
You arise, and before you appear
scenes from a long-ago year,
its anguish and image and prayer.

S1L4 "coming-awake" was "coming awake"
S1L5 "depths opening up to your view" was "the depths exposed to your view"


Und du wartest, erwartest das Eine,
das dein Leben unendlich vermehrt;
das Mächtige, Ungemeine,
das Erwachen der Steine,
Tiefen, dir zugekehrt.

Es dämmern im Bücherständer
die Bände in Gold und Braun;
und du denkst an durchfahrene Länder,
an Bilder, an die Gewänder
wiederverlorener Fraun.

Und da weißt du auf einmal: das war es.
Du erhebst dich, und vor dir steht
eines vergangenen Jahres
Angst und Gestalt und Gebet.

Literal translation:


And you wait, are awaiting the one [thing]
that will infinitely increase your life;
the powerful, the uncommon,
the awakening of stones,
depths facing toward you.

Dimly gleam in the bookcase
the volumes in gold and brown;
and you think of lands traveled through,
of pictures, of the apparel
of women lost again.

And suddenly you know: That was it.
You arise, and before you stand
a bygone year’s
anguish and shape and prayer.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 04-28-2018 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 04-25-2018, 04:13 AM
Edward Zuk's Avatar
Edward Zuk Edward Zuk is offline
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Surrey, Canada
Posts: 641

Hi Susan,

I think that things are quiet here because there are no obvious weaknesses to criticize. This is a poem by Rilke that I haven’t read before, but I’m glad that I’ve made its acquaintance.

I have only one caveat, which is about the meter. I’m hearing anapests throughout, but there are a few lines, about 1/3 of the total, that seem to be missing an unstressed syllable, which I’ll mark with an X:

the event, [X] uncommon and potent

the coming awake of [X] stones

the depths [X] exposed to your view

In the bookcase [X] dimly [X] glimmer

the volumes in golds and [x] browns

Is this deliberate or an imitation of the original? It’s not that big of a deal, but at least a few readers are apt to notice it.
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Old 04-25-2018, 08:01 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 14,155

I think this is solid, but I'd like it better if you could manage to add more rhyme. I suppose it's asking too much to have as many rhymes as the original, but I think that the piling-on of rhymes is so integral to the original that you need to do more, especially in the first stanza. In the first stanza, even before I read the German, my ear fully anticipated that the final line would rhyme with "far," and there was a thud when it didn't. Could you do something in L2 like "that will make your life greater for you" so that there's an additional rhyme?
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Old 04-25-2018, 08:36 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 5,453

Hey, Susan!

How lovely.

And now my nits, heh:

I'm so habituated to constructions like "the coming crisis" or "the coming stock market crash" that it took me a second to figure out that "coming" wasn't being used adjectivally in S1L4. Could you hyphenate "the coming awake" to "the coming-awake"?

And maybe you could find something as immediately meaningful, if not quite as punchy, as the abrupt "das war es" formulation to use in L11, such as "Then it hits you: it happened back there."

(Ironically, I didn't "suddenly know" anything at L11's "And you suddenly know: it was there." Instead I thought, "Wait--what? What was where?" I was so puzzled, after searching in vain for an antecedent in S2, that I shrugged and went on, only to seize upon the "its" in the final line of your translation as another possible clue. Alas, the crib showed that this wasn't the case, and only then did I finally figure out that the "it" in L11 is the "one moment" mentioned in L1. I'm slow, but I usually get there, eventually. I think my suggested wording would be helpful to dullards like me.)

Like Edward, I would have liked the waltz-like anapestic meter to have been more graceful, with fewer omissions of unstressed syllables; and like Roger, I really wanted the rhymes to be more perfect, particularly in S2, once I saw how rhyme-rich the original was.

I'm ashamed to be commenting so late on your translation, after you've commented so generously, several times, on mine. I hope some of these thoughts are helpful in some way.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-25-2018 at 08:40 PM.
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Old 04-27-2018, 01:45 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,588

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. It has been a very busy week for me, so it has taken some time to answer and will probably take more before I can make any changes.

Edward, the translation is mainly anapestic, and I originally had it be more regularly so, but I did not like the effect and deliberately put in some iambs for variety. In Auden's three-beat lines, such as in "As I Walked Out One Evening," I noticed that he has a lot of metrical variations, which keep it from becoming monotonous.

Roger, the paucity of rhyme in the first two stanzas is partly the result of trying to stay very close to their literal meaning. However, I am rhyming slant and across stanzas, so that every end word has at least a slant rhyme within the first two stanzas. I justify this choice to myself by the content of those stanzas, which are all about an intensity that is missing from the speaker's life. The last stanza, with the perfect rhymes, is about realizing that in the past that intensity was in his life. I am not opposed to getting more true rhymes into the poem, but I would have to find a way to do it that would not compromise the meaning.

Julie, I think I will try hyphenating "coming-awake." I'm not as certain about avoiding the ambiguity of "it was there." I think that phrase is supposed to be ambiguous until clarified by what follows it. I don't think I can make my translation as rich in rhyme as the original, as I explain above to Roger, but I have tried to find a rationale for the rhyme choices I have made. I will continue to explore other options, though.

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Old 04-28-2018, 09:11 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 4,548

Hi Susan,

I’ve been enjoying this Rilke, which I don’t recall seeing before. I see people have already addressed a couple of questions I had—the rhymes and the meter—so here are a couple of things I wonder about.

Line 5 of S1 in the original has more the sense of the depths presenting themselves to the “you” of the poem. This strikes me as essential, since it fits better how Rilke looked at things: the agency is in the depths, which play an active role, not merely being “exposed.”

Could “women” in the last line of S2 refer to wives instead of women? Probably not, since I believe Rilke was married only once, to Paula Becker, but I wondered about that one.

“Long-ago year” in the last stanza seems awkward in English. I get trying to avoid “bygone,” but could you put “long-past” instead? You’re being loose with the meter anyway.

Good luck with this one,

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Old 04-28-2018, 09:58 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 7,588

Andrew, I think you have a point about S1L5, so I have changed it. The women in S2, I assume, are not only former lovers, but also former unrequited passions. Although "earlier" would fit metrically in place of "long-ago," I think the latter gives more of a sense of something that happened a long while back. "Long-ago" does not sound odd to me in English, and I like the lilt it adds to that line. Thanks for your suggestions.

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