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  #1  
Unread 07-12-2019, 09:31 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Abishag

Abishag
by Rainer Maria Rilke

I.

She lay. And servants bound her childlike arms
around the limp and withered man, on whom
she lay throughout the sweet and lengthy hours,
a little frightened of his many years.

And on occasion, when an owl would shriek,
she turned her face and hid it in his beard,
and all the things of night approached and flocked
around her with their yearning and their fear.

The stars were trembling, just like her; perfume
went reconnoitering through the sleeping room;
the curtain, stirring, was a signal sent,
and softly her glances followed where it went.

She clung, though, to the man, fading and old,
untouched by what the night brings forth from night;
she lay there as his royalty grew cold,
still virginal and, like a spirit, light.


II.

Through empty days, the monarch sat and mused
on deeds accomplished, longings unfulfilled,
and on his favorite bitch hound, whom he spoiled.
But in the evening, Abishag would curl
on top of him. His life lay all confused,
deserted like an ill-reputed coast
beneath the constellation of her mute breasts.

Sometimes, as one well-versed in women’s ways,
he scrutinized her from beneath his brows,
observed her mouth—unmoved, unkissed—and found
that her emotion’s green divining rod
did not incline itself down toward his ground.
He felt a chill. He hearkened like a hound
and hunted for himself through his last blood.

Revisions:
I.S3L4 added "and" at the start of the line and changed the semicolon before it to a comma
I.S4L1 was "She clung, however, to the dark old man,"
I.S4L3 was "she lay there on his royal cooling down"
II.S1L7 was "under the starscape of her silent breasts."


Abisag

I.

Sie lag. Und ihre Kinderarme waren
von Dienern um den Welkenden gebunden,
auf dem sie lag die süßen langen Stunden,
ein wenig bang vor seinen vielen Jahren.

Und manchmal wandte sie in seinem Barte
ihr Angesicht, wenn eine Eule schrie;
und alles, was die Nacht war, kam und scharte
mit Bangen und Verlangen sich um sie.

Die Sterne zitterten wie ihresgleichen,
der Duft ging suchend durch das Schlafgemach,
der Vorhang rührte sich und gab ein Zeichen,
und leise ging ihr Blick dem Zeichen nach - .

Aber sie hielt sich an dem dunkeln Alten,
und von der Nacht der Nächte nicht erreicht,
lag sie auf seinem fürstlichen Erkalten
jungfräulich und wie eine Seele leicht.

II.

Der König saß und sann den leeren Tag
getaner Taten, ungefühlter Lüste
und seiner Lieblingshündin, der er pflag - ,
Aber am Abend wölbte Abisag
sich über ihm. Sein wirres Leben lag
verlassen wie verrufne Meeresküste
unter dem Sternbild ihrer stillen Brüste.

Und manchmal, als ein Kundiger der Frauen,
erkannte er durch seine Augenbrauen
den unbewegten, küsselosen Mund;
und sah: ihres Gefühles grüne Rute
neigte sich nicht herab zu seinem Grund.
Ihn fröstelte. Er horchte wie ein Hund
und suchte sich in seinem letzten Blute.


Literal translation:
Abishag

I.

She lay. And her child’s arms were
bound by the servants around the withered man,
on whom she lay during the sweet long hours,
a little fearful before his many years.

And sometimes she turned her face
into his beard, when an owl shrieked,
and all the things that were night came and flocked
around her with fear and longing.

The stars trembled as she did,
a scent went searching through the sleeping chamber,
the curtain stirred and gave a signal,
and softly her gaze followed after the sign—.

But she clung to the dark old man,
and not attained by what the night brings forth from night,
she lay on his princely cooling down,
virginal and light as a soul.

II.

In the empty day, the king sat and thought
on deeds accomplished, desires unfulfilled,
and his favorite bitch, whom he coddled—.
But in the evening Abishag curled herself
above him. His life lay confused,
deserted like an ill-famed seacoast
under the constellation of her silent breasts.

And sometimes, as one who knew women,
he perceived, through his eyebrows,
the unmoved, kissless mouth,
and saw that her emotion’s green divining rod
did not dip itself down toward his ground.
He felt chilled. He hearkened like a hound
and sought for himself in his last blood.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 07-15-2019 at 12:05 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 07-12-2019, 11:57 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Checking in on my phone to say the English reads well. Toward for me is two syllables.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 07-12-2019, 12:25 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, I am glad to hear it reads well for you. "Toward" is one syllable for me, but I know some people pronounce it with two. I don't mind having an anapest there, if they do. In fact, I am starting to feel that the iambs are a bit too regular in this poem, so I think I'll restore the "and" at the start of S3L4 in part I.

Susan
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  #4  
Unread 07-12-2019, 12:27 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Sounds good! Traveling today, but will return.

Cheers,
John
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  #5  
Unread 07-14-2019, 09:08 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
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Hi Susan,

I’m still mulling this one over, but on an initial reading, there were a couple places in this that seemed a bit off to me. One of these is “starscape” at the end of part II’s first stanza. I think you need ‘constellation’ for its association with astrology – it’s as if the metaphorical landscape is under a sign that portends something. Also, I feel that “cooling down” doesn’t nounify well in English – my first reaction was to go back and see if I’d misread something in the earlier part of the line, and even now, it seems awkward.
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  #6  
Unread 07-15-2019, 12:09 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
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Anka, thanks for your suggestions. I have taken your suggestion for reverting to "constellation" in stanza 1 of part II, and I have tried a different wording for the last stanza of part I.

Susan
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