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Unread 03-14-2021, 07:10 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 8,987
Default Rilke, The Island

The Island

North Sea


The next tide covers up the mudflat path;
on all sides, everything becomes alike,
and yet out there the little island has
closed up its eyes; confusingly, the dike

surrounds the island dwellers, who from birth
enter a sleep in which they mix together
many worlds mutely, for they hardly ever
speak, each sentence like an epitaph

for something washed ashore, unknown, which comes
to them, incomprehensibly, and stays.
And so it is with all that meets their gaze,
from childhood on: not pertinent to them,
unwieldy, thoughtless, sent from somewhere else,
which just exaggerates their loneliness.


As if it lay inside a crater’s rim
on a moon, each farm is circled round and dammed,
and all the gardens in them dressed and combed
identically, like orphans, by each storm,

which raises them with rough severity
and threatens them with death for days on end.
Then people sit inside their homes and see
in crooked mirrors curious things that stand

upon the chests of drawers. One of the sons
steps to the door at dusk and draws soft sounds
from his harmonica, as if it cried:

he heard it so in a foreign port. Outside,
one of the sheep looms, massive, almost like
a threatening thing, upon the outer dike.


Just what’s within is near; all else is far.
This inside’s packed and overfilled each day
with all things, all impossible to say.
The island’s like an over-tiny star,

which space, not noting, silently destroys
in its unwitting awfulness, so that,
ignored and unilluminated, it
yet tries

to follow its own self-discovered course
(if only so that all of this might end)
in darkness, blindly, quite outside the plan
of planets, suns, and systems of the stars.

Die Insel



Die nächste Flut verwischt den Weg im Watt,
und alles wird auf allen Seiten gleich;
die kleine Insel draußen aber hat
die Augen zu; verwirrend kreist der Deich

um ihre Wohner, die in einen Schlaf
geboren werden, drin sie viele Welten
verwechseln, schweigend; denn sie reden selten,
und jeder Satz ist wie ein Epitaph

für etwas Angeschwemmtes, Unbekanntes,
das unerklärt zu ihnen kommt und bleibt.
Und so ist alles was ihr Blick beschreibt
von Kindheit an: nicht auf sie Angewandtes,
zu Großes, Rücksichtsloses, Hergesandtes,
das ihre Einsamkeit noch übertreibt.


Als läge er in einem Krater-Kreise
auf einem Mond: ist jeder Hof umdämmt,
und drin die Gärten sind auf gleiche Weise
gekleidet und wie Waisen gleich gekämmt

von jenem Sturm, der sie so rauh erzieht
und tagelang sie bange macht mit Toden.
Dann sitzt man in den Häusern drin und sieht
in schiefen Spiegeln was auf den Kommoden

Seltsames steht. Und einer von den Söhnen
tritt abends vor die Tür und zieht ein Tönen
aus der Harmonika wie Weinen weich;

so hörte ers in einem fremden Hafen -.
Und draußen formt sich eines von den Schafen
ganz groß, fast drohend, auf dem Außendeich.


Nah ist nur Innres; alles andre fern.
Und dieses Innere gedrängt und täglich
mit allem überfüllt und ganz unsäglich.
Die Insel ist wie ein zu kleiner Stern

welchen der Raum nicht merkt und stumm zerstört
in seinem unbewussten Furchtbarsein,
so dass er, unerhellt und überhört,

damit dies alles doch ein Ende nehme
dunkel auf einer selbsterfundnen Bahn
versucht zu gehen, blindlings, nicht im Plan
der Wandelsterne, Sonnen und Systeme.

Literal translation:
The Island

North Sea


The next tide wipes out the path in the mudflats,
and everything becomes the same on every side;
but the little island out there has shut
its eyes; confusingly, the dike circles

around its residents, who have been born
into a sleep in which they muddle many worlds
together, silently, because they seldom speak,
and each sentence is like an epitaph

for something washed ashore, unfamiliar,
that without explanation comes to them and stays.
And it’s like that with everything their gazes delineate

from childhood on: nothing that pertains to them,
too large, thoughtless, sent here from elsewhere,
that just exaggerates their loneliness.


As if it lay in a crater circle
on a moon, each farm is circled by a dam,
and inside the gardens are dressed the same way
and combed alike, like orphans,

by that storm that raises them so harshly
and threatens them with death for days.
Then people sit in their houses and gaze
into crooked mirrors at strange things that stand

on their dressers. And one of the sons
at evening steps to the door and draws a sound
from the harmonica like a soft weeping;

so he heard it in a foreign port—.
And outside one of the sheep takes shape,
quite large, almost threatening, on the outer dike.


Only what is inside is near: all else is far off.
And this inside is packed and overfilled
with all things every day and wholly unsayable.
The island is like a too small star

that space does not notice and silently destroys
in its unconscious awfulness,
so that, unillumined and ignored,

so that all of this might come to an end,
darkly on its self-discovered path
it tries to go on, blindly, not in the scheme
of the planets, suns, and systems.

I wasn't sure that I should post this series together, but they work together closely as a unit, so I thought that posting them separately might be more confusing.
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