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Old 06-12-2018, 09:29 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Saint Sebastian

Saint Sebastian (revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

He’s standing there like one who’s lying down,
held upright wholly by his will’s great force.
He’s far removed, like mothers when they nurse,
and bound up in himself like a floral crown.

Now and now—the arrows penetrate
as if they sprang from his own loins, like steel,
quivering at the outer ends. And still
he’s darkly smiling and inviolate.

Just one time is his sorrow magnified,
his eyes laid naked in distress. At last,
they cast something, as trivial, aside,
as if they were forsaking in disgust
the ones who lay a lovely thing to waste.


Saint Sebastian
by Rainer Maria Rilke

He’s standing there like one who’s lying down,
held upright by his massive will alone.
Like mothers when they’re nursing, far withdrawn,
and bound up in himself like a floral crown.

Now and now—the arrows penetrate
as if they issued out of his own loins,
steely, quivering at the free ends.
Yet he is darkly smiling and unhurt.

Once only is his sorrow magnified,
his eyes laid naked in distress. At last,
as trivial, they cast something aside,
as if they were forsaking in disgust
the ones who lay a lovely thing to waste.


Revisions:
L3 "far" was "he's"
L4 comma removed after "himself"
L7 "free" was "loose"


Sankt Sebastian

Wie ein Liegender so steht er; ganz
hingehalten von dem großen Willen.
Weitentrückt wie Mütter, wenn sie stillen,
und in sich gebunden wie ein Kranz.

Und die Pfeile kommen: jetzt und jetzt
und als sprängen sie aus seinen Lenden,
eisern bebend mit den freien Enden.
Doch er lächelt dunkel, unverletzt.

Einmal nur wird eine Trauer groß,
und die Augen liegen schmerzlich bloß,
bis sie etwas leugnen, wie Geringes,
und als ließen sie verächtlich los
die Vernichter eines schönen Dinges.


Literal translation:
Like one lying down, so he stands: wholly
upheld by his great will.
Far withdrawn, like mothers when they breastfeed,
and bound up in himself like a garland.

And the arrows arrive: now and now
and as if they sprang from his own loins,
iron-hard, quivering with their loose ends.
Yet he smiles darkly, unhurt.

Once only a grief grows large
and the eyes lie painfully exposed,
until they renounce something, as being trivial,
and as if they contemptuously let go of
the destroyers of a lovely thing.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 06-16-2018 at 11:49 AM.
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  #2  
Old 06-12-2018, 02:56 PM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Thank you again, Susan, for another intriguing Rainer Maria Rilke original, literal crib and translation. With no German to speak of, I am deeply in your debt for these opportunities to share in his work – and, of course, in yours.

We clearly disagree, fundamentally, about the translation process. All three of your versions depart, to an almost total extent, from the rhyme schemes of the originals. This you – and I’m sure many others – defend as allowing for a more natural translation than, it is claimed, can be achieved by accepting the strictures of a set rhyme scheme. (In other cases, not in your pieces, this argument is also applied to justify departing from the metre of originals.)

I have watched this pass without comment from others and I’d simply like to state – or is it re-state – the contrary view. Admitted that all acts of translation, especially of poetry, involve a degree of re-creation and that no translation can ever be ‘the same’ in tenor or effect as the original, it seems to me that the structures of the original – metre, rhyme scheme etc. – are the only aspects that can – and therefore should – be repeated in a translated version. To wring a good final poem from such a process may not always be possible – some poems just will never work in translation to English – but I do believe that the goal should be striven for.

I’ll be interested to see, what others on this board may feel on the subject – and if the Moderator, feels this would be better as a separate thread, I’d be happy to see the bulk of this post moved to create one.
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Old 06-12-2018, 03:30 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Nigel, I am a bit puzzled that you are objecting to departures from the rhyme scheme in a translation that sticks pretty close to the original. But perhaps you are not accepting my slant rhymes as preserving the pattern. Rilke's rhyme scheme is abba cddc eefef and mine is abba cddc efeff. My position is that preserving an equivalent pattern of rhymes is often as effective as exactly duplicating the rhyme scheme. To me, the meaning, tone, and mood are more important to capture than the exact rhyme scheme. Where possible, I try to stick close to the meter as well, but the exact rhythms and word order are usually impossible to duplicate in a different language. I am very put off by confusing wording or unnatural syntax in a translation, so those are two things I try hard to avoid.

Susan
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Old 06-12-2018, 04:44 PM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Hi Susan - Late here, but a quick response. You are right; I don't find your slant rhymes convincing - my tin ear perhaps. I hope I made it clear that I was not questioning your metrical decisions; other translations have raised that for me. As to your objectives - about "meaning, tone and mood" - I could not possibly complain. My point may seem - plainly does - seem to you a very limited, perhaps pedantic, one... but it is something that concerns me in attempting effective, and affecting, translations - and it would be interesting to get others reactions/viewpoints as well. Best, Nigel
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Old 06-12-2018, 07:06 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Fair enough, Nigel, no one has to like slant rhymes, though even Yeats used them at times and Dickinson actively favored them. When I can find perfect rhymes that fit the meaning, I tend to prefer them, but the dissonance that slant rhymes introduce can sometimes fit the meaning of the poem in ways that I like. Sound isn't the only thing that adds force to a line. Sometimes the word you end a line with can add or detract significantly from the effect of a poem. The word that rhymes best isn't always the one that has the most impact. I usually look at a lot of different translations of a poem to see which end words have the most power, in my opinion. Dick Davis once said that in a good poem you can often get an idea of the content from the end-words alone.

Susan
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Old 06-12-2018, 07:22 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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And Dante said that throughout the Commedia, the rhyme was the key word in each line. Back later - it's late here.

Cheers,
John
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Old 06-13-2018, 05:11 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Dear Susan

I very much agree with your comment above: “To me, the meaning, tone, and mood are more important to capture than the exact rhyme scheme.”

Perhaps it is worth bearing in mind that Rilke, in the process of writing his sonnet, almost certainly made particular choices that were driven, not just by a pre-determined rhyme-scheme or metre, but as much by his sense of what the right shape was for his sentences as they fell within his lines. He might have gone with one possibility; he went for another. We all do this in writing our own poems, I imagine.

The reason this is peculiarly relevant in this instance is that the rhyme-scheme of the sonnet is not set in an absolute way. Especially in the sestet, several variants have been used by writers down the centuries. Rilke himself, across the range of his sonnets, uses several patterns. Nor does he always keep to one metre. In “Römische Sarkophage” (Neuen Gedichte, 1907), for example, the eighth line (“ein langsam Aufgelöstes lag”) is a tetrameter whereas the remaining thirteen lines are pentameters. I think translators are entitled to give themselves a degree of choice similar to what their original authors might be supposed to have allowed themselves.

I feel the same about half-rhymes. For over a hundred years now the half-rhyme (in various forms) has been acclimatized in English verse. It is not hard to list instances. Moreover, mixing full rhyme and half-rhyme is also a recognized practice. Yeats has already been cited. One might mention Auden and MacNeice. In more recent times Heaney and Mahon and Walcott come to mind. I do not see why translators should not be allowed this flexibility in the interest of what you call “meaning, tone, and mood”.

Terza rima has been mentioned. Here the flexibility the sonnet has acquired is obviously not available. But here, too, I do not see why, under contemporary circumstances, half-rhyme should not be admitted.

Is there a danger that we fetishize rhyme? Perhaps. But of course, as with much else in this field, tastes vary.

Good luck with this translation, Susan!

Clive
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Old 06-13-2018, 06:06 AM
Nigel Mace Nigel Mace is offline
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Clive, that is an exceedingly interesting and detailed post on the issues raised - and I'd like to stress that they seem to me to be of general importance and do not solely arise from Susan's translations.

However, I do feel that in relation to this Rilke translation, you are making some points that are really special pleading.

You speak of "a pre-determined rhyme scheme" as though this was a burden/restriction which had preceded Rilke's own choices. So far as I know, that is not the case. The "pre-determined rhyme scheme" of your comment was Rilke's own choice - not one whose implied restrictions he had to avoid/handle.

On your second point, Rilke does indeed, as Susan's chosen examples beautifully illustrate, vary his form and his rhyme scheme in writing sonnets. The issue is not Rilke's variety but whether or not that variety should be respected by being followed in translations. What was wrong with Rilke's choices? - and why should they not be respected?

As to half rhyme - or as claimed here, 'slant rhyme' - taste, as always will vary widely, but are there not some limits to the remoteness of consonances of sound that can legitimately lay claim to this? And why should it be preferred to more secure whole rhymes when these are the currency of the original writer - indeed, their choices?

As to the speculated danger that a translator might "fetishize rhyme", that would indeed be stultifying. But that was not being suggested. The question, to me, is whether/how far the translator should be free to depart from those aspects of the original writer's choices of rhyme, form and meter - aspects of formal poetry which can, in the majority of cases, be followed reasonably faithfully in a translator's own language.

If the answers to these questions are that solely by such variations - and by changes of these kinds alone - can "the meaning, tone, and mood" of the original be conveyed, then a defence is made good - but that is, and in my book should be, a very stiff test and I doubt that many translations which make those kinds of changes from an original do truly pass it.

However, exemplars, opinions and their supporting arguments will, as ever, divide - and that is what makes this board so unusually fruitful and intriguing.
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Old 06-13-2018, 08:28 AM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
Thanks again for another pleasure. A few small suggestions:

In S1L3, why did you change "he's" to "far"? Your first version reads much more smoothly.

S2L1 doesn't capture the sudden motion, the impact, of the arrow. Starting the line with "now and now" is confusing; we don't know what that is about. "the arrows penetrate" doesn't have the clear sense of time progression that "And the arrows come" has--coming is necessarily dynamic, whereas, at least to me, penetration can be more descriptive and static. Here is an attempt at an alternative:

And then the arrows come--now and now
as if they issued out of his own loins,
steely, quivering at the free ends.
And yet he smiles darkly, unhurt somehow.

In S3, the last line is a bit wordy and awkward compared to the original; I understand that a rhyme is hard to find, but if you could preserve "destroyers", it would is worth doing.

Thanks again for the read, and I hope that these comments are some use.
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Old 06-13-2018, 09:41 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Martin,
"Far" is in the German. I had originally omitted it to make the sentence complete, but I missed the element of great distance that "far" added, so I went back to it. "Now and now" is meant to be startling and confusing at first. I had to move it for the sake of getting a rhyme with "unhurt," but I don't mind the element of confusion that it brings, because the poem itself sounds almost confused about whether the arrows come from outside or from within the saint. To add "somehow" just for the rhyme is the kind of thing I try to avoid. It is a vague word, whereas "unhurt" is important to the meaning. "Destroyers" is a strong word, but I needed something that would rhyme, so I had to find a synonym. But thanks for the suggestions. This is the point at which I want to reconsider all of my choices and why I made them, even if I ultimately choose to remain with my original selection.

Susan
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