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Old 05-29-2018, 07:39 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, The Last Supper

The Last Supper
by Rainer Maria Rilke

They’re pressing in, astonished and unstrung,
round him who, like a sage resolved to die,
withdraws himself from those he’s lived among
and, like a stranger to them, passes by.
He’s captured by the loneliness of old,
which reared him to his deep pursuits today;
he’ll walk again now through the olive wood,
and those who cherish him will run away.

He’s summoned them to come to the last supper,
and, as a shot scares birds up from the sheaves,
he scatters their shocked hands away from loaves
with just his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter, anxious, round the table’s rim,
and look for some way out. But it’s not there,
for, like the twilight, he is everywhere.


Das Abendmahl

Sie sind versammelt, staunende Verstörte,
um ihn, der wie ein Weiser sich beschließt,
und der sich fortnimmt, denen er gehörte,
und der an ihnen fremd vorüberfließt.
Die alte Einsamkeit kommt über ihn,
die ihn erzog zu seinem tiefen Handeln;
nun wird er wieder durch den Ölwald wandeln,
und die ihn lieben, werden vor ihm fliehn.

Er hat sie zu dem letzten Tisch entboten
und (wie ein Schuß die Vögel aus den Schoten
scheucht) scheucht er ihre Hände aus den Broten
mit seinem Wort: sie fliegen zu ihm her;
sie flattern bange durch die Tafelrunde
und suchen einen Ausgang. Aber er
ist überall wie eine Dämmerstunde.


Literal translation:
The Last Supper

They are gathered, astounded, disturbed,
round him who, like a wise man resolved on his end,
takes himself away from those he belonged to,
and, as a stranger, flows away from them.
The old loneliness comes over him,
that raised him to his profound deeds;
now again will he walk through the olive grove,
and those who love him will flee before him.

He has summoned them to the last supper
and (as a shot frightens birds out of the sheaves)
he frightens their hands from among the bread
with his word: they fly across to him;
they flutter anxiously about the table’s round
and seek a way out. But he
is everywhere like a twilight hour.
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  #2  
Old 05-29-2018, 10:43 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Susan,
I think this is really great. It flows so well, and captures the original superbly.

A few questions more than nits:
In L2, should the comma be before or after the "who"?
L5 diverges slightly from the original, both with "captured", and the slight archaism "of old"; perhaps you could give it another look; "mood" might work as a rhyme word, though there are many other choices of course!

But even without any changes, I love it.

Martin
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Old 05-30-2018, 09:50 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Susan!

I love the "unstrung"/"among" rhyme!

I think it's important in the second quatrain to draw a parallel between Jesus' solitude during his 40 days in the wilderness (before he began his public ministry, full of "profound deeds"--i.e., miracles) and his solitude on the Mount of Olives (after the Last Supper, when Peter, James, and John failed to stay awake and watch his back, at the beginning of an ordeal notable for its lack of miracles). The word "today" torpedoes that parallel, in my opinion.

I also think that it's important to make the "supper" line rhyme with the next two lines somehow, because those three rhymes in a row are what justify the inclusion of a fifteenth line in this sonnet. Maybe "this supper that he gives"?

Elsewhere I've seen notes that Rilke wrote this after seeing Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" in Milan in 1904. For readers wondering what loaves are doing at a Passover seder, it might be useful to include that note so that it's clear whose error it is.

I think "for like the twilight gloom, he's everywhere" would do more to establish the mood than just "like the twilight". Not sure if you'll agree.

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful.
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Old 05-30-2018, 10:06 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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I liked this so much that it drove me to try my hand at it as well. I was also interested by the original's rather testing rhyme scheme and, though I'm often not agreed with, I thought that it could be attempted in a translated version. Though some find me a pedant on this, I think it not only can be done, but that it really should be.

All of which being said, I did enjoy your version and there is nothing like trying oneself, to learn just how testing the material is and to realise how worthwhile somebody else's solutions are. Thank you.
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Old 05-30-2018, 10:21 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Martin, in L2, "like a sage resolved to die" is an interrupting phrase, so I think it needs to be set off with commas. The preceding "who" could go either way, with a comma before it or not. The way I have punctuated it is as a restrictive clause, identifying the "him." But it could also make sense as just a nonrestrictive clause providing additional information. I am using "captured" metaphorically, to suggest the way the feeling has taken over his mind, but I am also intentionally looking forward to the arrest that comes soon after the scene. I chose "of old" for its suggestion of nostalgia. Jesus is looking back on his early loneliness. Though "solitude" would make an acceptable rhyme, and I considered it, I think "loneliness" conveys more sadness.

Julie, you are making me think hard about "solitude" as a possible substitute for "loneliness." One has more scriptural precedent, but "loneliness" is a very common theme in Rilke, and I don't think he just means "isolation" by it. By "today" I meant "in these times," not "on this very day," but I can see that it could be read the other way. I will see if I can find alternatives. I considered trying to rhyme the "supper" line, but I don't like adding "that he gives" to the line. It occurred to me that the line, by not rhyming, can emphasize the solitude that had just been mentioned. But I will think more about that too. I don't want to add "gloom" to the last line. "Twilight" alone has a suggestion of darkening mood.

Susan
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Old 05-30-2018, 10:45 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Nigel, we cross-posted. I am glad to have inspired you to try translating the poem, too. My own priority in translating is to stick very close to the meaning, tone, and mood of the original, while trying to reproduce the meter (or an equivalent meter in English) with a rhyme scheme that is as crafted as that of the original. But I am willing to resort to slant rhymes where needed, and I often alter the exact pattern of rhymes if the rhymes that fit the meaning don't fit the same pattern as the original poet used. Translators all differ in what they feel is crucial and what they are willing to alter to create the effect they are going for. There is not one right answer; everything is a compromise. I put a premium on clarity and naturalness of syntax. I find that many of the translations that go for exact rhyme and identical rhyme schemes sacrifice one or both of those.

Susan
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Old 05-30-2018, 11:12 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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I have no business commenting on the translation itself, having no ability to read Rilke in German, but did want to stop by again to say how beautifully this translation reads. Rilke is one of my favorites.
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Old 05-30-2018, 11:13 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Indeed, Susan - they are all trade-offs. Sometimes I find the test of - well, sort of stricter limits - generates riffs of meaning which add or enhance an original; and sometimes they just make it more complicated than one would want! The challenge is what - one hopes - inspires. Thanks again.
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Old 05-30-2018, 02:09 PM
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Rick Mullin Rick Mullin is offline
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Really good, Susan. It's great to pick up Rilke's voice in an English translation that rhymes.

I'm wondering what you are doing with the first three lines of the second stanza rhyme-wise.

Rick
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Old 05-30-2018, 02:43 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Rick, in the first three lines of S2, you could view "supper" as being either unrhymed or slant-rhymed with the last two lines. "Sheaves" and "loaves" are slant-rhymed with each other. I am not following the rhyme scheme of Rilke's original, but I was trying to have the whole poem be rhymed. I decided that the phrase "last supper" was too important to alter in S2L1, and its lack of a clear or near rhyme calls attention to it and emphasizes its isolation in a way that I thought was meaningful in the context.

Susan
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