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  #1  
Unread 11-29-2020, 09:13 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, The Bachelor

The Bachelor (revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

A lamp on abandoned documents, and night
surrounding it, which deepened and extended
into the wooden bookshelves. He could lose
himself in his forebears, who by now had blended
with him; the more he read, the more he thought
he had their pride, but they had all of his.

Haughtily, the empty chairs stood stiff
along the wall, and purest self-esteem,
stretched out upon the furniture, dozed off.
Upon the pendulum clock, the night poured down,
and from her golden mill streamed out his time,
quivering and finely ground.

He left it there. And feverishly, with them,
tore other times away, as though he were
yanking their bodies’ winding sheet.
Till he was whispering (what, to him, was far?).
He praised, as if the letter were to him,
one of these letter writers—how you know
me!
—thumping his armrests merrily. And yet
the mirror, less confined within, allowed
a curtain to open softly, then a window—
for there, almost complete, the specter stood.


Revisions:
S1L3 was "into the wooden shelves. And he could lose"
S1l4 was "himself in his predecessors, who now blended"
S2L1 was "Proudly, the empty side chairs stiffened up"
S2L3 "dozed off" was "asleep"
S3L4 "was far" was "seemed far"
S3L9 "open" was "close"


The Bachelor
by Rainer Maria Rilke

A lamp on abandoned documents, and night
surrounding it, which deepened and extended
into the wooden shelves. And he could lose
himself in his predecessors, who now blended
with him; the more he read, the more he thought
he had their pride, but they had all of his.

Haughtily, the empty chairs stood straight
along the wall, and purest self-esteem
drowsily in the furniture stretched out.
Upon the pendulum clock, the night poured down,
and from her golden mill streamed out his time,
quivering and finely ground.

He left it there. And feverishly, with them,
tore other times away, as though he were
pulling away their bodies’ shrouds.
Till he was whispering (what, to him, seemed far?).
He praised, as if the letter were to him,
one of these letter writers—how you know
me!
—thumping his armrests with enjoyment. Yet
the mirror, less confined within, allowed
a curtain to close softly, then a window—
for there the specter stood, almost complete.


Der Junggeselle

Lampe auf den verlassenen Papieren,
und ringsum Nacht bis weit hinein ins Holz
der Schränke. Und er konnte sich verlieren
an sein Geschlecht, das nun mit ihm zerschmolz;
ihm schien, je mehr er las, er hätte ihren,
sie aber hatten alle seinen Stolz.

Hochmütig steiften sich die leeren Stühle
die Wand entlang, und lauter Selbstgefühle
machten sich schläfernd in den Möbeln breit;
von oben goss sich Nacht auf die Pendüle,
und zitternd rann aus ihrer goldnen Mühle,
ganz fein gemahlen, seine Zeit.

Er nahm sie nicht. Um fiebernd unter jenen,
als zöge er die Laken ihrer Leiber,
andere Zeiten wegzuzerrn.
Bis er ins Flüstern kam; (was war ihm fern?)
Er lobte einen dieser Briefeschreiber,
als sei der Brief an ihn: Wie du mich kennst;
und klopfte lustig auf die Seitenlehnen.
Der Spiegel aber, innen unbegrenzter,
ließ leise einen Vorhang aus, ein Fenster - :
denn dorten stand, fast fertig, das Gespenst.


Literal translation:
The Bachelor

Lamplight on the abandoned documents,
and, all around, night extending deep into the wood
of the bookcases. And he could lose himself
in his ancestors, who now merged with him.
It seemed to him, the more he read, that he had theirs,
but they had all of his pride.

Haughtily, the empty chairs stiffened up
along the wall, and pure self-esteem
stretched out sleepily in the furniture;
from above, night poured itself on the pendulum clock,
and from her golden mill ran, quivering,
very finely ground, his time.

He did not take it. And feverishly among these,
as if he pulled away the shroud from their bodies,
he tore away other times.
Until he was whispering (what was distant to him?).
He praised one of these letter writers
as if the letter were to him—How you know me!—
and thumped merrily on the armrests.
But the mirror, less limited within,
softly released a curtain, a window—
for there stood, almost complete, the specter.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 12-04-2020 at 04:43 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 11-30-2020, 12:58 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Obligatory joke:



Okay, back to business.

I like the vividness of all this, and particularly the image of the clock as a mill to grind time.

The one spot in which I think there might be a better alternative is in this sentence:

     Haughtily, the empty chairs stood straight
     along the wall, and purest self-esteem
     drowsily in the furniture stretched out.

The syntax of the last line feels awkward to me, and I suspect that a contrast is intended between the stiffness of the haughty chairs and the way that entitled self-esteem is sprawling casually across their support. (If I am reading this correctly, and "the furniture" is referring to the chairs. Maybe he's actually referring to more horizontal pieces--e.g., a sofa or loveseat or something.) Would a stronger conjunction like "although pure self-esteem" be permissible there?
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  #3  
Unread 12-03-2020, 02:36 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, thanks for your suggestions. I have made some changes to the lines at the start of S2, and also to several lines in S3. I think the less comfortable chairs are lined up along the walls, and that his self-esteem is stretching out on some more comfortable furniture at the center of the room.

One general question addressed to anyone fluent in the nuances of German: are the curtain and window being closed or opened or left out in the next-to-last line?

Susan

Last edited by Susan McLean; 12-03-2020 at 03:21 PM.
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  #4  
Unread 12-03-2020, 02:45 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Or is the mirror itself a curtain or window? I know that some Jews and some Irish and Polish Catholics cover mirrors and other reflective surfaces after a death in the family. (The ancestors in this poem seem long gone, though.)
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Unread 12-03-2020, 04:34 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, I think the mirror is revealing something that is not visible in the room, so you could see it as a kind of window. It is not clear to me whether the specter is supposed to represent Death in general or the ghost of the bachelor himself, gradually becoming a reality.

Susan
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  #6  
Unread 12-04-2020, 11:00 AM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Hi Susan,

This was my first time encountering this particular poem – but I think I’ve managed to make sense of at least some of its peculiarities, so here are some initial thoughts.

I think the translation could make it a little clearer in places that he’s a literary man. It’s a lineage of writers he’s losing himself in – he’s probably reading some Briefwechsel between two famous authors (and reading himself into it). And he’s not actually doing any writing himself, which is why the papers in the first stanza are abandoned (although having them as “documents” in the translation obscures that a little). I’m thinking that’s why the poem has the title it does. Although it may literally fit him, the focus isn’t on his marital status as such.

You could have “bookcases” in that stanza instead of the more generic “shelves,” which would help point readers in that direction. I don’t think their being wooden is a crucial detail – really, other than establishing a little about the setting and giving that hint, that whole line doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot other than telling me that, yes, I’m reading a poem by Rilke.

In the last stanza, I’d say it’s definitely the curtain opening. The mirror is being likened to a window, and the “aus” only belongs to the (metaphorical) curtain. But having the window draw the curtain aside would be weirdly anthropomorphic, even in a metaphor, and so you have it letting the curtain move aside. I feel like that hits a sort of balance between being inanimate and still having some kind of life to it. That’s what I’m finding most interesting about this poem, especially the second stanza – the sense of empty space still filled with something unseen and ominous, and charged with meaning that’s completely lost on the only person there.

I also read the “was war ihm fern?” in the third stanza as an expression of pride, but this doesn’t come across as strongly with “seemed far” in the translation.
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Unread 12-04-2020, 03:59 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Anya, I am reading the poem differently. I don't think the bachelor is a literary man. The documents he is reading pertain to his ancestors (I may have misled you by translating it "predecessors"). The irony is that he is terribly proud of his family line, but because he is a bachelor, he will not be continuing it. In S1L3, "Schränke" can mean things such as cupboards or cabinets, but because the dark is stretching into the cabinets, I am assuming that they are most likely bookshelves and that the setting is the library or study of the bachelor. I think in the last stanza, it is the mirror that is doing something to both a curtain and a window. I think “was war ihm fern?” is an explanation of why he is whispering. If nothing seems far away to him, not even the past, he does not need to speak loudly to be heard by those to whom he is speaking.

Because this is a translation, I am trying to convey all of the details that Rilke mentions, even if they do not seem necessary, such as that the shelves are made of wood. I will look closely at the areas where you read the lines differently, to see whether I can make the meaning of them clearer.

Susan
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Unread 12-04-2020, 04:46 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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I have experimented with a few changes, including trying out a change from closing to opening the curtain and window. It seemed odd that one would first close a curtain, then a window.

Susan
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Unread 12-08-2020, 06:45 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Well, yeah, it’s not as if it doesn’t work the other way. (Although I seem to have said something different above. I’m not sure why, but I’d guess it has to do with coming down with some nasty respiratory thing earlier in the week.) I think I was also meaning to ask about why you'd translated "Geschlecht" as predecessors, but just ended up having a lot to say as it was.

I don’t disagree with what you said about “Was war ihm fern?” It’s an explanation as well as an expression of character, but in the original, the ‘is’ puts you practically in his head, in a striking contrast with the poem’s presentation of how things stand that follows. Having ‘seems’ instead weakens that effect. And I definitely wasn’t suggesting that you cut things out for the hell of it – I was just thinking it through in the knowledge that there often aren’t perfect solutions to the problems posed by translating poetry.
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