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Unread 02-16-2020, 07:47 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,385
Default Rilke, Tanagra

by Rainer Maria Rilke

A little hard-baked clay,
as if baked by a mighty sun.
As if a gesture by
a girl’s hand suddenly
managed to linger on:
not reaching out for something,
not leading from its feeling
toward something, merely moving
to touch itself, like lifting
a hand up to her chin.

We raise and turn around
figure after figure;
we can nearly understand
why they don’t disappear,
but we are merely meant
to hold on to things that were—
more deeply, with more pleasure—
and smile, a little clearer
perhaps than the year before.

S1L2 "mighty" was "stronger"
S1L5 was "might stay and not be gone:"
S1L19 "her" was "a"
S2L7 "pleasure" was "wonder"


Ein wenig gebrannter Erde,
wie von großer Sonne gebrannt.
Als wäre die Gebärde
einer Mädchenhand
auf einmal nicht mehr vergangen;
ohne nach etwas zu langen,
zu keinem Dinge hin
aus ihrem Gefühle führend,
nur an sich selber rührend
wie eine Hand ans Kinn.

Wir heben und wir drehen
eine und eine Figur;
wir können fast verstehen
weshalb sie nicht vergehen, -
aber wir sollen nur
tiefer und wunderbarer
hängen an dem was war
und lächeln: ein wenig klarer
vielleicht als vor einem Jahr.

Literal translation:

A little baked earth,
as if baked by an intense sun.
As if the gesture
of a young girl’s hand
suddenly did not fade away;
without reaching for something,
leading from its feeling
toward no object,
merely moving toward herself
like a hand to her chin.

We lift and we turn
figure after figure;
we can almost understand
why they do not fade away—
but we are merely meant
more deeply and wonderfully
to hang on to what was
and smile: a little more clearly
perhaps than the year before.

Note: Title refers to small terracotta figurines of pretty young women from the ancient Greek city of Tanagra, often found in burials from the time.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 02-19-2020 at 02:18 AM.
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Unread 02-17-2020, 09:04 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: NY, USA
Posts: 4,463

Hi Susan,
my first impression is that this is really lovely. I'll come back after some more readings. One thought: in L10, "a chin" is a bit awkward--even if it is a bit of a liberty, I would say "her chin".

Best wishes,

p.s. My wife says that wunderbarer means more wonderfully, not wonderingly.
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Unread 02-18-2020, 09:03 PM
A. Sterling A. Sterling is offline
Join Date: Jun 2018
Location: Maryland, U.S.A.
Posts: 114

Hi Susan,

A more detailed reaction to come, maybe. But for now, a couple things occur to me: first, that the ‘großer’ in ‘von großer Sonne’ is not a comparative, just inflected to match the ‘von’; and that, following up on Rick’s point, “her chin” would not only be more natural than ‘a chin’ but true to the original since a possessive wouldn’t be used there in German like it is in English, even if ‘her chin’ is meant. It's a reasonable interpretation.

Also, “might stay and not be gone” strikes me as a bit of an awkward construction.
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Unread 02-19-2020, 02:21 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,385

Thanks, Martin and Anka, for your suggestions, which I have tried to implement in the revisions.

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