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  #21  
Unread 05-21-2020, 06:48 PM
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Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julie Steiner View Post
Not to me. But the advice at the end of Prof. Paul Brians' note is probably sound.
There is no confusion when you use the modern spellings of "full" and "foul" instead of Middle English "ful": fullsome and foulsome.
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  #22  
Unread 05-21-2020, 10:11 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Kevin, every choice in translating poetry has pros and cons. Full rhyme is one option, and other translators of Rilke have used it. That choice usually involves a lot of changes to the meaning of the poem. I'm choosing to stick closer to the meaning, even if it means using slant rhymes. I usually do avoid wrenched rhymes such as "shadow/know," but I certainly am not trying to get anyone to mispronounce "shadow." It is the first of the two rhymes. It is always useful to hear which choices readers object to, but I can't guarantee that I will find alternatives that would seem better to you, and I don't plan to change my whole approach to translating at this point. Since there are lots of translators of Rilke, every kind of approach is likely to be tried by someone, so readers have a lot of different versions to choose among.

Susan
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  #23  
Unread 05-23-2020, 09:02 PM
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Imagine painting someone's portrait and saying "Don't worry about your face looking like it has no nose. Reducing the nose til it looks like there is none is something that helps me stick to what matters most."

An occasional slant rhyme is by no means unreasonable. But when every rhyme in the translation is a slant rhyme, I think that is overdoing it, especially when the rhymes of the original poem are thoroughly not slant rhymes.

The meaning is essential, but the medium is too. If you greatly reduce the things that make the poetic medium, then you also greatly reduce its abililty to function as a poem and deliver the meaning in a poetically impactful way.
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  #24  
Unread 05-24-2020, 09:22 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Dear Susan

For reasons I have already mentioned, some of which are shared by Kevin, I confess that I do not think this is one of your better versions from Rilke. Overall, it does not, to my ear, read well; and there are a number particular points where I think stylistically (and in other ways) it goes astray. But I do very much want to defend your approach to rhyme.

Of Rilke’s rhymes, Kevin says this: “I don't see how you see rhymes watered down this much as being effective, or doing justice to the kind of rhymes that are in the original, which are all very strong rhymes. The rhymes are important too. You can't just sacrifice their impact and expect the poem to function anywhere as much as it should as a poem.” It is true that Rilke’s rhymes are “strong”. They were certainly important to him. Skilful though he was, he must have worked hard to create such a body of rhymed work; and, apparently, so I have read somewhere, when he spoke his verse out loud, he did so in a way that drew attention to the rhymes. (At this point I am reminded of the well-known, very early recording of Tennyson reading “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and also of Yeats reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. Their manner of delivery is not what most audiences expect today.) But to say “The rhymes are important too. You can't just sacrifice their impact and expect the poem to function anywhere as much as it should as a poem” begs a number of questions. There are too many to go into here, but let me mention three: rhyming itself, word-choice and syntax.

First, in considering the use of rhyme in any two languages, is there not perhaps a danger of assuming that the aesthetic effect is the same in both and that therefore the same critical weight should be given to rhyme in the target-language as in the source-language? It seems to me that this is at least open to question. There is, for instance, the frequently made observation that some languages are “rhyme-rich” and some are not. One could argue that this affects the relative valency of rhyme as between any two languages.

I know of only two translators who, in translating these poems into English, have adopted full rhyme as the basis of their practice: J. B. Leishman, whose version of these two volumes appeared in 1964 though it was in fact the culmination of a lifetime of translating Rilke, and Len Krisak in 2015. There may be others. (Stephen Cohn’s very readable versions of 1992 use a mix of full rhyme and half-rhyme.) Of these two, the more remarkable in some ways is Leishman’s. Not only does he rhyme throughout, he replicates Rilke’s metres with considerable fidelity (trochee for trochee, for instance). He also keeps fairly close to what one might call the prose sense. Krisak, in his impressively skilful renderings, often retains Rilke’s exact rhyme-schemes but does permit himself occasional half-rhymes. He also allows himself from time to time to move slightly further from the original so as to make things work – “That choice usually involves a lot of changes to the meaning of the poem”. To my mind, some of their versions work better than others, but, given the large number of poems to be translated, this is hardly surprising. (I confess I have not checked every poem in these books.) Leishman is sometimes startlingly close. He himself singles out his version of “Eva” from Neue Gedichte anderer Teil as being successful, and I am happy to agree with his judgement. But, taking an overview, the danger Leishman skirts and does not always quite avoid is of producing expressions in English that strike the ear as unnatural in a way that Rilke’s German, it seems to me, does not. Cohn and Krisak are also not always immune to this danger.

This problem relates to two others: the question of the register and semantic range of Rilke’s words, and the importance of syntax, both in itself and in relation to metre.

The first of these I find the hardest to deal with. I do think one has to be quite deeply immersed in a second language to able to judge intuitively the social register of a word. (This is especially true of speech in “live” situations, of course.)

As to semantic range, in the case of this particular poem one might wonder about “umgestellt”, to which Kevin draws attention. Its fundamental sense refers to moving items in a set of items from one place to another (swapping them about), and this is how I have heard it used in real situations: rearranging the furniture in a room. But one might also use it, I think, of immaterial things, such as words in a sentence. At its heart seems to be the idea of transposition, of putting something into the place previously occupied by something else. For this reason, “changed around” is an accurate literal rendering of “umgestellt”, but it points to what I think is a problem with Rilke’s poem. Rilke half-rhymes it with two other rhyme-words: “verhielt” and “gespielt”. This is a demanding pattern – three rhyming words across seven lines. He makes it work only by allowing himself the slight imprecision of the half-rhyme – and also, so one might argue, by choosing a word that brings with it another problem. The problem springs from the plural noun “Züge”, which, as mentioned above, here refers primarily to the physical features of the reader’s face (his eyes, which have already been specifically mentioned, but also by implication his mouth and nose) but can also mean more abstract “traits” or “characteristics” (of temperament, for instance). In its primary sense, in this context “umgestellt” permits – or perhaps one should say – does not prevent the alarming and ridiculous vision of a face distorted as in a drawing by Picasso, the component features pushed into new places. This surely cannot be what Rilke intends. In fact, the close of this poem seems to me to be very much in the area announced by the final sentence of the first poem of Neue Gedichte anderer Teil, “Archaïscher Torso Apollos”: “Du mußt dein Leben ändern”.

Finally, there is syntax. It is hardly worth saying that German syntax compels words, and therefore the images and concepts they carry, into an order that is very often completely different from that of English. English in this respect is much more fluid. For this reason the patterns of expectation and release in a German sentence differ from those in English. This has a bearing on line-ends. Though I have not made a proper study of this, it strikes me that line-endings in Rilke are quite commonly end-stopped, the line-end coinciding with the end of a syntactical unit, whether of a major or, less perceptibly, of a minor kind. This means that run-over lines, as here at line 8, can have considerable force. One of the implications of this is that perhaps one needs to be wary of the way the flexibility of English syntax can encourage or require enjambement. Overdone, these create an effect that is quite different from Rilke’s German. (Krisak’s otherwise often attractive versions sometimes seem to me to slide in this direction.)

It is self-evidently the case that all translation is in some degree an act of reinvention. Understanding the basic sense of the source-language is fundamental, but the chance of a direct and “literal” version standing up for itself as a poem in the target-language is highly unlikely. Offhand, I can think of no instance. Something, therefore, has to go. For me, as I think for you as well, while rhyme is indeed important and ideally to be reflected in a translation, trying to do so using only full rhyme (let alone keeping to the original rhyme-scheme) risks losing or impairing other even more important features: the poetic narrative or argument, the flow of its images and ideas, the poem’s tonal and emotional qualities, and its broader rhythms, both syntactical and metrical. In any case, the practice of the past hundred or so years has seen the growth in English in the use of various forms of half-rhyme that, in my view, have enriched the resources of the language.

My hope for my own scattered and unsystematic attempts on these poems is that it might perhaps be possible to read them as if they had first been conceived in English. As you rightly say, Susan, there are lots of versions out there, some more rationally thought through perhaps than others. “You pays your money and you takes your choice”.

Good luck with this!

Clive
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  #25  
Unread 05-24-2020, 06:58 PM
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Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is online now
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Keep in mind, that since weak/partial rhymes are the standard for the rhymes in this, by the same principle, the below are also end-rhymes of your translation, resulting in the rhyme-scheme deviating from the original quite a lot (probably more than you intended):

turn and sure (Lines 3 & 5)

force and sure (Lines 4 & 5)

force and -dow (Lines 4 & 6)

know and -fore (Lines 7 & 8)

-fore and -lone (Lines 8 & 13)

.

Last edited by Kevin Rainbow; 05-24-2020 at 07:15 PM.
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  #26  
Unread 05-25-2020, 05:45 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Never mind.....
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  #27  
Unread 05-25-2020, 05:48 PM
Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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I'd suggest that Rilke is "going deep" with Züge, and expecting that the German language reader can do that also. That is, the "feel" of Züge and its affiliates in intimate German is what he is summoning. These would include close cognates to the word, as well as words that have a similar appearance, and those that sonically echo it. Spoken German lends itself to that when it appears in print. Rilke hardly ever writes "scientific" or strictly denotative German; he can be astonishingly suggestive. That's where much of his poetry resides, and it can be amazing. I feel that in this poem, the meaning of Züge is 50% indirection and suggestion, or more than that. Some ideas that might occur to you in this connection could be rabbit holes to avoid, but roll the word in your mouth, and swish it like a speaking wine. He's one of my favorite modern non-English language poets, and one of the very few modern German language poets I can stand.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 05-26-2020 at 01:30 PM. Reason: removal of a huge distraction
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  #28  
Unread 05-26-2020, 02:29 AM
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Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is online now
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Quote:
Of these two, the more remarkable in some ways is Leishman’s. Not only does he rhyme throughout, he replicates Rilke’s metres with considerable fidelity
Just found his translation. Superb. It is hard to imagine anyone ever outdoing that translation.
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  #29  
Unread 05-26-2020, 06:33 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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I entirely agree, Allen, with both the detail and the general thrust of your remarks. Part of my point is exactly that “Züge” has a doubleness one can regard as suggestive – but to suggestiveness there must surely be some boundaries or one wanders away into vacuity. In any case, the comic vision is not excluded by the word-choices Rilke made. The employment of a half-rhyme here (admittedly in some German pronunciations a very close one) is suggestive in another direction. I admire a large number of these poems, some of which, perhaps like you, I have lived with for a very long time, but that does not exclude the possibility of suspecting that sometimes Rilke, for all his dash and skill, does not get things quite right. In any case, there is a difficulty here for a would-be translator. Pondering these things seems to me essential if one is to attempt to create an English-language version.

Over to Kevin for a moment…

As I indicated above, it would be surprising if anyone, in translating all these 172 poems (by my count), succeeded with every one of them “Eva” is good, but Leishman also gives us this kind of thing (first, from poems Susan has recently worked on):

Who could suspect this pink? Who could deduce / that in these umbels here it was upbuilding? / Like golden-surfaced artefacts ungilding, / they’re gradually unreddening, as in use. (“Rosa Hortensie”)

Who knows him, he who’s let his face descend / to where a new existency engages (“Der Leser”)

And they got him in themselves upstored / … (a last endeavour / to withhold his journey heavenward. (“Gott in Mitttelalter”)

Then more randomly...

Tender as the wheat upspringing greenly/ …Daily I re-echoed new distresses / you would so insatiably devise, / and this mouth of mine survived their stresses; / see if you can still it anywise. (“Jeremia”)

Nations all around him were contending / whom to heaven or hell he might be sending; / and, divining that he lost his pains, / numbly from the stench of men ascending, / summit of a column he attains… (“Der Stylit”)

I mentioned Leishman’s adherence to Rilke’s exact metres, which is in many ways astonishing. Unfortunately the effect of these patterns in English is in my judgement sometimes simply too jaunty for the matter. The trochee does not create this effect in German. One of the reasons for this is suggested if you consider the words Rilke uses at the start of trochaic lines. A great many (though not, admittedly, all) begin with a naturally stressed syllable – for example (a brief, unattributed selection from the poems): “immer”, “aber”, “ihre”, “während”). By contrast, Leishman is driven by the inherent phonetic patterns of English to use large numbers of words whose stress is indeterminate (that is, determined only by position). Often this forces him to adopt an expression in which the rhythms feel forced: “Think it hadn’t been: it none the less / must in mountains have been generated / and within the streams precipitated / through the willing, the fermentingness, // of their will, their rooted certainty / of one ore surpassing every ore” (“Das Gold”). This sounds unEnglish to me, as the German does not, I think, sound unGerman.

And here, having written a great deal, I am going to step away from this thread and hand it back to Susan with thanks to her for posting so many fascinating translations.

Clive
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  #30  
Unread 05-26-2020, 07:16 PM
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Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is online now
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Clive,


I don't know. But I think Susan could probably do herself more of a favor by emulating the predominately successful nature of his kind of approach than by shunning it due to extremely minor details that some folks may have hypermodernist biases against. It is naturally better to follow the example of the translation with the fewest weaknesses than that of the one with a lot of weaknesses/difficulties. When there are so many weaknesses you can't even clearly identify where they begin and end, you know your approach to translating the poem needs to change in one way or another for the translation to be converted to something strong. Improving the rhyme isn't a magic pill that will work wonders for the poem. But is one thing that directly helps the impact, can divert attention from weaknesses in other things, and in conjunction with working on the improvement of those other things, eventually may make a very meaningful difference overall.

.

Last edited by Kevin Rainbow; 05-26-2020 at 08:05 PM.
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