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Unread 09-13-2020, 11:50 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,637
Default Rilke, Saul among the Prophets

Saul among the Prophets
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Do you suppose one sees one’s own decline?
No, the king still sensed his exaltation
while wanting his strong harp boy to be slain,
even down to his line’s tenth generation.

Not till, upon such paths, the Spirit rushed
on him and tore him up did he become
aware that, deep inside, he was unblessed,
and then his blood departed into gloom
and, superstitious, went to face his doom.

If now his mouth poured forth and prophesied,
it was just so the escaper could flee far.
This second time, it went thus. Yet before,
he’d prophesied once, almost like a child,

as if from every vein in him words streamed
into a mouth of bronze. All men strode out,
yet he strode more erect. All men would shout,
and yet in him it was his heart that screamed.

And now he’d turned to nothing but this heap
of toppled-over honors, weight on weight;
his mouth was like a rooftop waterspout
that cannot catch—before it lets them drop—
the gushes that converge in it.

Saul unter den Propheten

Meinst du denn, dass man sich sinken sieht?
Nein, der König schien sich noch erhaben,
da er seinen starken Harfenknaben
töten wollte bis ins zehnte Glied.

Erst da ihn der Geist auf solchen Wegen
überfiel und auseinanderriss,
sah er sich im Innern ohne Segen,
und sein Blut ging in der Finsternis
abergläubig dem Gericht entgegen.

Wenn sein Mund jetzt troff und prophezeite,
war es nur, damit der Flüchtling weit
flüchten könne. So war dieses zweite
Mal. Doch einst: er hatte prophezeit

fast als Kind, als ob ihm jede Ader
mündete in einen Mund aus Erz;
Alle schritten, doch er schritt gerader.
Alle schrieen, doch ihm schrie das Herz.

Und nun war er nichts als dieser Haufen
umgestürzter Würden, Last auf Last;
und sein Mund war wie der Mund der Traufen,
der die Güsse, die zusammenlaufen,
fallen lässt, eh er sie fasst.

Literal translation:
Saul among the Prophets

Do you suppose, then, that one sees himself decline?
No, the king to himself still seemed exalted
when he wanted his strong harper boy
killed, even unto the tenth generation.

Not until the Spirit, on such paths,
fell upon him and tore him asunder
did he see himself to be without blessings within him,
and his blood went into the darkness,
superstitiously on toward the judgment.

If his mouth now dripped and prophesied,
it was merely so that the fugitive could
flee far away. So it was this second time.
But once before, he had prophesied

almost like a child, as if each vein of his
poured into a mouth of bronze;
All strode, but he strode more erect.
All cried out, but it was the heart of him that cried out.

And now he was nothing but this heap
of overturned dignities, load upon load;
and his mouth was like the rainspout in the eaves,
which lets the gushes, which run together,
drop before it takes hold of them.
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Unread 09-14-2020, 01:34 PM
Kevin Rainbow's Avatar
Kevin Rainbow Kevin Rainbow is offline
Join Date: Jan 2014
Location: Regina, SK; Canada
Posts: 249


The meter and rhyme-scheme of your translation don't seem to be faithful to those used in the original. That is a major unnecessary deviation to me, in the context of languages that both widely allow the same poetic form.


Last edited by Kevin Rainbow; 09-14-2020 at 02:07 PM.
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Unread 09-14-2020, 04:34 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,637

Kevin, there are many possible ways to translate poetry, and I think you and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum on some choices. I start with the assumption that I am writing for readers of English, not those who can read and understand the German. I feel a strong responsibility to try to convey the content accurately, and to find a form in English that is analogous to the form in the original language. But English and German have different rhythms, different word lengths, different syntax, and different poetic traditions. I am trying to make my meter have the same number of stresses per line, but when Rilke writes in trochaic meter, I translate into iambic, because trochaic meter is rare in English and tends to sound unnatural (chants and such), whereas iambic meter is much more adaptable and natural in rhythm in English.

I try to rhyme as often as Rilke rhymes, but not always in the same pattern, so as to fit the content. I do pay attention to his rhyme schemes, though, and try not to fall into patterns that he rarely uses (such as a series of rhymed couplets). I prioritize clarity, natural diction, normal-sounding syntax, and standard English punctuation, but when Rilke writes in very long sentences, I try to do so, too, because the rhythm of sentences counts.

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