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  #1  
Unread 09-06-2019, 09:24 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, Don Juan's Childhood

Don Juan’s Childhood (revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

His slimness held the bow—already now
almost complete—that women can’t destroy;
sometimes, no longer foreign to his brow,
an inclination for a passerby

would cross his countenance, for one who bore
a strange, old-fashioned image locked inside;
he smiled. He was no weeper anymore,
who stole away into the dark and cried.

And while a self-assurance wholly new
often consoled and nearly spoiled him, he
bore gravely the frank stares of women, who
admired him and who stirred him secretly.


Revisions:
S1L2 was "almost conclusive—women can’t destroy;"
S2L2 was "a strange old-fashioned image closed inside;"


Don Juan’s Childhood
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Within his slimness, nearly set by now,
there was the bow no women could destroy;
sometimes, no longer foreign to his brow,
an inclination for a passerby

would cross his face, for one whose features kept
a strange old portrait locked in them: he smiled.
No longer was he one of those who wept,
who stole away into the dark and cried.

And while a self-assurance wholly new
often consoled and nearly spoiled him, he
bore gravely the frank stares of women, who
admired him and aroused him secretly.


Don Juans Kindheit

In seiner Schlankheit war, schon fast entscheidend,
der Bogen, der an Frauen nicht zerbricht;
und manchmal, seine Stirne nicht mehr meidend,
ging eine Neigung durch sein Angesicht

zu einer die vorüberkam, zu einer
die ihm ein fremdes altes Bild verschloß:
er lächelte. Er war nicht mehr der Weiner,
der sich ins Dunkel trug und sich vergoß.

Und während ein ganz neues Selbstvertrauen
ihn öfter tröstete und fast verzog,
ertrug er ernst den ganzen Blick der Frauen,
der ihn bewunderte und ihn bewog.


Literal translation:
Don Juan’s Childhood

In his slimness was, already nearly conclusively,
the bow that women cannot break;
and sometimes, shunning his brow no longer,
an inclination crossed his face

for one who passed by, for one
who to him contained a strange old portrait:
he smiled. He was no longer the weeper
who bore himself into the darkness and shed tears.

And while a wholly new self-confidence
more often comforted him and almost spoiled him,
he gravely bore the entire gaze of the women,
who admired him and moved him.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 09-10-2019 at 03:26 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-07-2019, 07:05 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Sorry, I’m at a tournament this weekend. Will be back by Monday.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 09-09-2019, 02:33 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Susan!

In LL1-2, I think it's the bow (and not the boyish slimness) that's nearly set, because that boyish figure is about to go away with adolescence. The bow seems a clear reference to Cupid, who is often depicted as a pre-pubescent child, or even a toddler.

I'm having trouble understanding why Juan would smile to see a strange old portrait locked in the features of a woman for whom he felt some inclination. What do you think is going on there?

[Edited to add: Byron's "Don Juan" mentions Cupid's bow, too, although in connection with his first lover (his mother's friend Julia), rather than with Juan himself. The bold bit might be relevant to Rilke's poem's discussion of women's power to limit the power of that bow.

Quote:
This, too, was a seal'd book to little Juan—
     I can't but say that his mamma was right,
If such an education was the true one.
     She scarcely trusted him from out her sight;
Her maids were old, and if she took a new one,
     You might be sure she was a perfect fright;
She did this during even her husband's life—
I recommend as much to every wife.

Young Juan wax'd in goodliness and grace;
     At six a charming child, and at eleven
With all the promise of as fine a face
     As e'er to man's maturer growth was given:
He studied steadily, and grew apace,
     And seem'd, at least, in the right road to heaven,
For half his days were pass'd at church, the other
Between his tutors, confessor, and mother.

At six, I said, he was a charming child,
     At twelve he was a fine, but quiet boy;
Although in infancy a little wild,
     They tamed him down amongst them: to destroy
His natural spirit not in vain they toil'd,
     At least it seem'd so; and his mother's joy
Was to declare how sage, and still, and steady,
Her young philosopher was grown already.

[...]

Young Juan now was sixteen years of age,
     Tall, handsome, slender, but well knit: he seem'd
Active, though not so sprightly, as a page;
     And everybody but his mother deem'd
Him almost man; but she flew in a rage
     And bit her lips (for else she might have scream'd)
If any said so, for to be precocious
Was in her eyes a thing the most atrocious.

Amongst her numerous acquaintance, all
     Selected for discretion and devotion,
There was the Donna Julia, whom to call
     Pretty were but to give a feeble notion
Of many charms in her as natural
     As sweetness to the flower, or salt to ocean,
Her zone to Venus, or his bow to Cupid
(But this last simile is trite and stupid).
"Aroused" in your final line is probably too suggestive of physical arousal.]

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-09-2019 at 04:01 PM.
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  #4  
Unread 09-09-2019, 04:37 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Well, yes, not my favorite Rilke poem, but let's take a look. As a whole, your rendering is nicely done as English, I think.
S1. So: I read entscheidend as referring to the bow, by word order. You've left it ambiguous in English and I think that's fine. I might say "can destroy," and I kind of regret your looseness here - "which does not break on women" - but perhaps it's fair enough. Face is maybe a bit weak for Angesicht.
S2. "kept ... locked in them" seems wrong for "hid from him;" and der Weiner is singular, there's no group identity in question.
S3. I agree with Julie, aroused ... secretly seems a bit much for bewog.
Bottom line: I do think there's room to tweak this. It seems further from the German than is your wont, and I'm not sure it needs to be. You risk creating a new and different poem IMO.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 09-09-2019, 05:18 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, you are right that it is the bow, not the slimness, that has already nearly become a fixed part of Juan. I would perhaps say that his looks are his weapon, and that he is destined to become a mighty hunter of women. We often speak of such men as "lady-killers." I think there is also an allusion to Venus breaking Cupid's bow when he misbehaved, but only as something that the women are not able to do with Juan. His bow is unbreakable. About the portrait that he sees in the woman's face, I think we are to imagine a beauty that he has seen in a painting appearing to have come to life in a particular passerby, as if, for example, you saw someone on the street and thought "she looks just like Marie Antoinette." I am not sure that Rilke would have been exposed to Byron's Don Juan. Probably Mozart's Don Giovanni, or other European versions of that story.

Susan
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Unread 09-09-2019, 11:38 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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John, I am sorry not to have responded earlier. I was busy with other things and only now have managed to get back to trying to respond to your comments. I have made a number of changes based on your suggestions. Let me know if you think they are improvements or not.

Susan
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Unread 09-10-2019, 02:49 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Yes and yes. I like countenance and image - portrait seemed a bit precise. Your virtuosity is again on display. Props. I think you've pretty much got the German now, and I like your English. No meaningful nits.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 09-10-2019, 10:32 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Thanks for your help, John. It is good to hear that it is working for you now.

Susan
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Unread 09-10-2019, 01:35 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I like all the changes, Susan.

If I'm interpreting the poem correctly--big "if"--I still think S2L2 needs a bit more of a tweak.

Does it mean that the protagonist is uniquely able to perceive something of what those women are secretly carrying--perhaps a hidden something that might make them more receptive to his later seductions than other women? The "to him" in the crib there seems to point in that direction, but the verse translation doesn't.

I think "locked inside" would be more suggestive of agency and intent behind that repression than the more neutral "closed inside."

For me, the word "old-fashioned" suggests a fustiness and propriety that doesn't need to be hidden from society; on the contrary, it's the sort of socially useful thing that women of a certain social stature used to take great care to flaunt on the surface. So something's not quite right with that characterization.

Could the language of stamping images on coins be useful here? Coins are an ancient concept, and many of them used to bear the images of local gods and goddesses, including goddesses of love. Could these women bear a minting stamp in the image of Venus, but they need to hide that?

Or could this simply be a reference to every woman's body being as naked under her clothes as nude statues of Aphrodite, and clothing locks that away?

I'm still mulling that bit over. Anyway, it might be useful for you to mull over that bit, too.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-10-2019 at 01:40 PM.
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Unread 09-10-2019, 03:31 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, I have tried changing "closed" to "locked" in S2L2 and have also added a comma between the adjectives. I am assuming that Don Juan is a connoisseur of the unusual, particularly drawn to what is unfamiliar, foreign, antique, etc. When he sees something locked, he wants to unlock it. The more prim the exterior, the more he wants to alter it. The patrician women who would normally not be fair game for a libertine are the very ones he goes after.

Susan
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