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Old 10-14-2018, 09:15 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Last Supper

Last Supper (revision)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Eternal things desire us. Who allots
and separates the great and humble powers?
Can’t you distinguish, through the dusky shops,
the bright back room aglow with the Last Supper:

how they hold it, how they pass it on,
and in the act are simple and austere.
The signs rise from their hands: they aren’t aware
of what they’re doing, even as it’s done,

and always newly, with the words they say,
they settle what we drink and what we share.
For there is nobody from anywhere
who’s not, in secret, leaving while he stays.

And doesn’t someone always sit with them
who casts away to their abandoned time
his parents, serving him with anxious care?
(To sell them off would surely go too far).

Revisions:
L1 started "Eternal things desire us," then "What's timeless hungers for us," then reverted to the previous version.
S4L2-3 was "who casts away his parents, who with care / are serving him, to their abandoned time?"
S4L3 was "his parents, who are serving him with care?"


Last Supper
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Things everlasting long for us. Who picks
and separates the great and humble powers?
Can’t you distinguish, through the shopfronts’ dusk,
the bright back room aglow with the Last Supper:

how they hold it, how they pass it on,
and in the act are simple and austere.
The signs rise from their hands: they aren’t aware
of what they’re doing, even as it’s done,

and always newly, with the words they say,
they settle what we drink and what we share.
For there is nobody from anywhere
who’s not, in secret, leaving while he stays.

And doesn’t someone always sit among them
who gives away his parents, who with care
are serving him, to their discarded time?
(To sell them off would surely go too far).


Revisions:
S4L4 was "(For him to sell them off would go too far)."


Abendmahl

Ewiges will zu uns. Wer hat die Wahl
und trennt die grossen und geringen Kräfte?
Erkennst du durch das Dämmern der Geschäfte
im klaren Hinterraum das Abendmahl:

wie sie sichs halten und wie sie sichs reichen
und in der Handlung schlicht und schwer beruhn.
Aus ihren Händen heben sich die Zeichen;
sie wissen nicht, das sie sie tun

und immer neu mit irgendwelchen Worten
einsetzen, was man trinkt und was man teilt.
Denn da ist keiner, der nicht allerorten
heimlich von hinnen geht, indem er weilt.

Und sitzt nicht immer einer unter ihnen,
der seine Eltern, die ihm ängstlich dienen,
wegschenkt an ihre abgetane Zeit?
(Sie zu verkaufen, ist ihm schon zu weit.)


Literal translation:
Lord’s Supper

Eternal things want us. Who has the choice
and separates the great and little powers?
Can you not perceive through the twilight of the shops
the Lord’s Supper in the bright back room:

how they hold it and how they pass it on
and in the action remain simple and austere.
From their hands arise the signs;
they do not know that they perform them,

and always newly with whatever words
establish what we drink and what we share.
For there is no one, anywhere,
who is not secretly going away from there, while he stays.

And does not someone always sit among them
who gives away his parents, who carefully serve him,
to their discarded time?
(To sell them off is, for him, already going too far.)

Last edited by Susan McLean; 10-26-2018 at 11:25 AM.
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  #2  
Old 10-16-2018, 06:55 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Hi Susan,

Yeah, I love the poem and this is a very good translation. I see R walking the streets and peering through the windows to the scene within, and reflecting (as it were), and hitting on some of his most important themes. I hear a bit of the poet’s self-regard at the end. He indulges that, but who can blame him?

A couple of comments:

S1L1 – ‘long for us’ is great for ‘will zu’, which has the sense of ‘yearning’, so important to R.

S2L2 – ‘austere’ is clever for ‘schwer’. Combines the sense of heavy and strong.

S3L2 – ‘settle’ is very good for ‘einsetzen’. Colloquial, and carries the sound of ‘set’ as in ‘set the table’. I love the reference to passing the cup and breaking the bread in that line (‘trinkt’ and ‘teilt’)

S3L4 – ‘heimlich’ is something of a pun in German, I think, meaning both furtive and cosy. The poem renders it with the sense, but it’s also specific to that word in German. I think.

S4L4 – for ‘schon’ I thought of ‘surely’. I might say ‘To sell them off would surely go too far’. A bit of self-reference for R in this close, as well as the echo of the biblical words.

Delightful and so Rilkean.

M
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:05 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Michael, thanks for your responses. I have taken your suggestion for the last line and have appreciated your endorsement of some of the other word choices I made. I think the poem is quite representative of the use that Rilke makes of religion as a jumping-off point for his own meditations.

Susan
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Old 10-19-2018, 07:39 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Yes. Blake is the nearest to him that I can figure, but R keeps more of the Christian superstructure and interprets it in his own spell-binding, if sometimes oblique, way. I hear a pronounced accent of Nietzsche in him, I suppose via Lou Andreas-Salome. Nietzsche could be considered and inverse mystic. But Rilke IMO is sui generis, which is why he is so fascinating and so so wonderful. 
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Old 10-21-2018, 12:15 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Susan,

Sorry to bump this thread above the other translation you just posted, but I wrote these comments last night and they wouldn't post, so I decided to post them this morning instead.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hey, Susan!

This is beautiful, as usual.

(It would be even more beautiful with more rhyme, I think, but you already know my prejudices in that regard and there's no point in belaboring them.)

A few things tripped me up in Q1 which you might want to consider changing.

First, "Things everlasting long for us" is odd phraseology. Until I saw the crib, I misread "everlasting long" as adverb and adjective, rather than as adjective and verb, and I thought the lack of a verb was a way of conveying how everlasting those things were for us. Perhaps change to a more colloquial paraphrase like "What's changeless covets us" or "What's timeless craves our presence" or something. (Yeah, I know, you're always disinclined to depart too much from the original wording, and I respect that, but I thought I'd say it anyway.)

Second, the title and L4 are pointing to one particular meaning of Abendmahl, which seems to be a word with three meanings. Using a somewhat-ironic religious title like "Communion" and a more secular "evening meal" in L4 might help to let the third meaning be more of a surprise in the final quatrain, with its implicit comparison between the betrayer at Jesus' Last Supper and the furtive disloyalty of all children, everywhere, plotting their eventual escape from parental authority while at a stereotypical evening meal (at which, in this case, the religiosity seems not even for show, but just by habit, as the Catholic sign of the cross is made during a presumably equally-by-reflex grace).

In Q4, I don't know what "to their discarded time" means. If it means "To the time when the parents will be discarded by their children (although not sold, as Jesus was)," I think a paraphrase would be more helpful than staying literal.

Standard caveat about my ignorance of German, my incorrigible propensity for getting distracted by small details at the expense of the big picture, etc., etc. And also my standard thanks for your letting us enjoy these Rilke pieces.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 10-21-2018 at 12:20 PM.
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Old 10-21-2018, 03:02 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, thanks for pointing out the parts of the translation that were unclear to you. I have tried a few changes to address those issues. The rhymes are still slant, but I have tried to make them a bit closer. In S1L1 I have tried to avoid the confusion by changing the first sentence to "Eternal things desire us." I have also changed the rhymes from "picks/dusk" to "allots/shops," which may or may not sound better to you.

The title, "Abendmahl," is not used typically of the evening meal, but only of communion or the Lord's Supper. I think Rilke does intend a surprise, but it is to start with an image of the Lord's Supper and convert it into an ordinary evening meal, not the other way around. We aren't supposed to picture just any communion in the back room, but specifically the Lord's Supper.

I don't know how to make the "discarded time" clearer, though I have tried changing "gives away" to "casts away" and "discarded" to "abandoned." I can't tell what is confusing to others unless they tell me, so thanks for alerting me to the problems.

Susan
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Old 10-22-2018, 12:38 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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One more question for readers: I am a little uncomfortable with "desire" in L1 because of its overtones of sexual desire. Does "Things everlasting crave us" or "Things everlasting want us" strike you as a preferable option, or is that wording also confusing?

Susan
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Old 10-22-2018, 02:16 PM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Hi Susan,

Hmmmm, I’ve been a little perplexed by the first sentence and I think – perhaps – I’ve figured it out. ‘Ewig’ is an adjective, which R appears to have made into an adjectival noun, in the neuter. Given the ‘strong’ ending (Ewiges), it’s probably ghost-preceded by ‘etwas’ (something), or ‘viel’ (much).

So for me the natural translation would be “Something eternal yearns / longs for us.” I also like “Something eternal calls to us.” The latter has a bit of a Tolkien flavor, but I think could be apposite in R, who is clearly outside the realm of conventional religious discourse… I don’t mind ‘Eternal things’, since ‘viel’ (much) could be the word that’s omitted.

So: ‘Something eternal’ or ‘Eternal things’; then ‘yearn(s) for / long(s) for / call(s) to us’. Why not choose depending on your reading?

It's entirely possible I have this wrong because it’s been a while since I studied German grammar, so if anyone has a better reading, please speak up … I needed to try to figure it out.

M
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Old 10-22-2018, 08:13 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Michael, thanks for pushing me to keep thinking about this. I have come up with yet another version of the first sentence.

Susan
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Old 10-22-2018, 09:11 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Susan!

I know I shouldn't argue. But I can't help myself. I really think that if the Wiktionary entry I mentioned above is correct, Austrians (like Rilke) would be more likely to think of the word "Abendmahl" in L4 in terms of its literal and colloquial meaning, "evening meal," first, before thinking of the Last Supper:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Noun
Abendmahl n (genitive Abendmahls or Abendmahles, plural Abendmahle)

(Christianity) Last Supper (Biblical event)
(Protestantism) Communion; Eucharist (sacrament)
(southern Germany, Austria, otherwise archaic, literary) supper; evening meal

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I would also encourage you to consider reorganizing the phrases in the middle two lines of the final quatrain to make things more fluid, with the happy side effects of sticking more closely to the original rhyme scheme in that quatrain, and of letting the off-rhymes sing a bit more with greater proximity. I think the poem would end with more impact that way.

I'm itching to show you what I mean, but I know you hate that, so I'll leave you to it, if you're so inclined.

I don't think you've found that elusive, perfect first line yet. "THIRSTS for US" would work better metrically than "HUNgers FOR us." Not sure if you'll like what that does to the imagery--although there's certainly drink mentioned later in the poem, and both food and drink were important at the Last Supper, too.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 10-22-2018 at 09:16 PM.
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