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  #1  
Unread 03-21-2020, 02:15 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, One of the Old Ones

One of the Old Women

Paris

Some evenings (do you know the way it goes?)
when suddenly they stop and, nodding back
at you, from under their half-hat they show
a patchwork smile, as if composed of scraps.

They’re passing alongside a building then,
endless, and they lure you on their track
with the enigma of their scabby skin,
their hat, their mantle, and the way they walk.

With one hand waiting underneath their collar
in secrecy, which longs to snatch you up,
as if they want to take your hands and wrap
them tightly in a picked-up scrap of paper.

Revisions:
Title was "One of the Old Ones"
S2L1 was "Along their side a building stretches then," then changed "walking" to "passing"
S3L1-2 was "With their hand that back beneath their collar / waits secretly and longs to snatch you up,
S3L4 "picked-up" was "salvaged"


Eine von den Alten

Paris

Abends manchmal (weißt du, wie das tut?)
wenn sie plötzlich stehn und rückwärts nicken
und ein Lächeln, wie aus lauter Flicken,
zeigen unter ihrem halben Hut.

Neben ihnen ist dann ein Gebäude,
endlos, und sie locken dich entlang
mit dem Rätsel ihrer Räude,
mit dem Hut, dem Umhang und dem Gang.

Mit der Hand, die hinten unterm Kragen
heimlich wartet und verlangt nach dir:
wie um deine Hände einzuschlagen
in ein aufgehobenes Papier.


Literal translation:
One of the Old Ones

Paris

Sometimes in the evening (do you know how it goes?)
when they suddenly stop and nod backwards
and show a smile, as if of nothing but patches,
from under their half-hat.

Beside them is then a building,
endless, and they lure you along
with the enigma of their scabs,
with their hat, their mantle, and their walk.

With a hand that back under their collar
secretly waits and longs for you:
as if to wrap your hands up
in a picked-up paper.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 03-23-2020 at 12:22 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 03-21-2020, 06:51 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I have a lot of trouble picturing a "half-hat," or picturing someone's hand under his own "collar" somehow also extending as if to take the narrator's hands.

I might be way off base here (as I often am), but could the reference here be to a Franciscan monk's habit with a hood and short cape or cloak (which I'm sure has a specialized term that I don't know)? [Edited to say: capuche, apparently, as in Capuchin monk or Capuchin monkey or even cappuccino. The "half-" reference may be to the fact that some orders' hoods are deliberately made too short to cover the full face.]

I can picture a hand moving forward while under that short cape, like a hand under a piece of utilitarian brown paper, moving forward to pick something up without dirtying itself.

But hey, I picture lots of things in Rilke's poems, some of them quite bonkers.

I don't think "Along their side" is the right description of the building's location, which had me picturing a giant reclining with a tiny building the length of his body. I'm pretty sure that neither you nor Rilke would approve of my picturing that.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 03-21-2020 at 07:06 PM.
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  #3  
Unread 03-21-2020, 07:07 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie,
I was having trouble picturing a half hat, too, so I did some research. Here is a Wikipedia article about half hats of the 1950s

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Half_hat

but the phenomenon of the tiny hat perched on top of the head was relatively common in the late 1800s, so I assume that is what Rilke means. For the collar, I think you need to picture the collar of a cape or sleeveless cloak. For warmth, the woman is keeping her hand clutched right under the collar, which would be the warmest area of the cloak, the tightest to the body. The woman is, I think, poor or deprived in some way, and looks at the speaker as if she wants to wrap him up and take him home with her like scavenged food. There is a suggestion of the witch and the uncanny in this portrait. I will try to reword S2L1.

Susan
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Unread 03-21-2020, 07:19 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Oh, duh, "Eine" is feminine. Never mind. And a fascinator could be described as a half-hat.
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  #5  
Unread 03-22-2020, 11:54 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Would someone more helpful like to comment on Susan's poem? Sheesh, you can't do worse than I have!

I keep thinking of that building in S2, which is probably a brothel. Trying to lure the "you" of the poem into it would probably be a better visual than "on their track."

Maybe "walking" in S2L1 and "on their track" in S2L2 and "walk" in S2L4 are too hiking-related. Maybe it's just me. But I don't think these women are all that interested in outdoor exercise.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 03-23-2020 at 12:24 AM.
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  #6  
Unread 03-23-2020, 03:14 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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I'm trying to picture the scene. Tell me, is prostitution called "the oldest profession" in Rilke's Germany?

I ask because I saw this as a picture of a streetwalker - one of the "old ones" trying to pick up a trick with a backward glance and a smile (cobbled together from past experiences) from under her cheeky hat.

She is luring him back to her base of operations where she hopes to serve him, covering his hands in second-hand wrapping paper, to fantasise them into those of a lost/former lover.
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Unread 03-23-2020, 08:02 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie and Ann, I don't think Rilke is portraying an aged prostitute. I think, instead, he is fascinated by old women, beggars, people with disabilities--all kinds of people he sees as "other." He says the women are luring him. I think we might say he is stalking them. They might even be frightened of him, though I am pretty sure that he is following them just to try to figure out what makes them tick, so that he can write a poem about them. They may be out walking to see if they can scavenge anything they can use in the streets. But I don't think he knows why they are walking. That is not what is important to him. I would also say that he is projecting his hunger for them (as subjects) onto them, making it seem that they are the ones longing for him.

P.S., Julie, I changed "walking" to "passing" to avoid repeating "walk," but the ongoing movement is important.

Susan

Last edited by Susan McLean; 03-23-2020 at 08:13 AM.
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Unread 03-23-2020, 09:19 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Tooth loss and scabby sores are both symptoms of syphilis, though, Susan. And it seems odd that Rilke would mention the building if it weren't important.

I think the walking is the marketing part of "streetwalking."

"Old ones" could be as young as 25 in prostitution, a profession in which the hourly rate declines sharply with age. Not to mention the high risk of violence, illness, and alcoholism/drug-related complications.

Not that I have any credibility left at all after my earlier posts, heh.

[Edited to say: I'm reading "patchwork smile" as including some false teeth, which would not match the color of the real ones.]

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 03-23-2020 at 09:24 AM.
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Unread 03-23-2020, 09:52 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, in Rilke's day, old people in general would have a lot of tooth loss, but the poor would not be able to afford false teeth. I am assuming that the patchwork look of their mouths includes a lot of dark gaps from missing teeth. The word that I translate as "scabby skin" is generally translated as "mange" or "scabies," which again suggest poverty. So I am not convinced that Rilke wants us to think of prostitutes at all, especially because he also writes a lot of poems about elderly upper-class women. I think it is old women that fascinate him, not prostitutes per se. When he does write about prostitutes, it tends to be about courtesans and hetaerae, so high-end sex objects, not streetwalkers.

Susan
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Unread 03-23-2020, 10:56 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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This whole poem just stumps me, starting with the title. Why does Rilke call it "One of the Old Ones," and then proceed to speak of these women in the plural throughout the poem? I don't get it.

Does Rilke's fascination with more attractive sex workers in other poems necessarily preclude his writing about less attractive sex workers on this occasion? He does seem to enjoy writing about other grotesque women, such as the one compared to a sybil (another poem that I said a lot of hopelessly off-target things about when you workshopped it). I don't see why sex workers would necessarily be exempt.

The one thing that seems certain to me is that in this poem Rilke is employing sarcasm in describing the charms and allure that these women seem to think they have, whether they are actual prostitutes or just acting coquettish. Tell me I've got that right, at least!

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 03-23-2020 at 11:04 AM.
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