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Old 07-25-2018, 01:22 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, Joseph's Suspicion

Joseph’s Suspicion
by Rainer Maria Rilke

And the angel spoke and took great pains to sway
the man, whose hands were tightly balled in fists:
“But do you not perceive, in every crease,
that she’s as cool as God’s own early day?”

Yet sullenly at him the other stared,
murmuring just “What made this change in her?”
But then the angel cried out, “Carpenter,
do you not see yet? That’s done by our Lord.

Because you turn out planking, in your pride
would you in fact presume to call him out
who unassumingly from that same wood
makes boughs burst into leaf and blossoms sprout?”

He understood. And as he raised his gaze
back to the angel, truly frightened now,
he wasn’t there. Slowly from his brow
he pushed the heavy cap. Then he sang praise.

Revisions:
S1L1 "took great pains" was "struggled hard"
S2L1 was "Yet back at him the other glumly stared,"


Argwohn Josephs

Und der Engel sprach und gab sich Müh
an dem Mann, der seine Fäuste ballte:
aber siehst du nicht an jeder Falte,
daß sie kühl ist wie die Gottesfrüh.

Doch der andre sah ihn finster an,
murmelnd nur: Was hat sie so verwandelt?
Doch da schrie der Engel: Zimmermann,
merkst du's noch nicht, daß der Herrgott handelt?

Weil du Bretter machst, in deinem Stolze,
willst du wirklich den zur Rede stelln,
der bescheiden aus dem gleichen Holze
Blätter treiben macht und Knospen schwelln?

Er begriff. Und wie er jetzt die Blicke,
recht erschrocken, zu dem Engel hob
war der fort. Da schob er seine dicke
Mütze langsam ab. Dann sang er lob.


Literal translation:
Joseph’s Suspicion

And the angel spoke and took pains
with the man, who balled up his fists:
But do you not see, in every fold,
that she is as cool as God’s early morning?

Yet the other looked at him sullenly,
murmuring only: What has changed her thus?
But at that the angel cried out: Carpenter,
do you not see yet that the Lord God is acting?

Because you make boards, in your pride,
would you truly call him to account
who modestly from the same wood
makes leaves burst out and buds swell?

He understood. And as he now raised
his eyes, very frightened, toward the angel,
he was gone. He pushed his heavy
cap off slowly. Then he sang praise.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 07-26-2018 at 02:14 PM.
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Old 07-25-2018, 11:34 PM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hey, Susan!

Not one of Rilke's best, in my opinion. Reading this poem reminds me of most homilies I sit through, which make me think, "Such fascinating source material, and this was the most interesting thing that this guy could do with it? How disappointing." But that's not your fault.

"Struggled" in L1 seems off, tonally speaking. The word makes me think of Jacob/Israel. In contrast, in this scenario, Joseph is the only one who seems aggressive.

You know I'm a rhyme snob, so take this with your usual grain of salt, but I think "fists" and "crease" are not close enough rhymes. What about "balled" and "fold"?

Either "crease" or "fold" will force me to confess that I haven't a clue what Rilke means here. Is this part of an idiom that means "in every detail" or something? I doubt that "in every crease" or "in every fold" refers to her expression (emotional coolness would be unperturbed, not wrinkled), or her clothing, and certainly not her genitalia, so I can't help thinking that the meaning here can't be literal.

I picture Joseph's stare in S2 as more defiant than glum. Glumness implies a sort of passive resistance, while Joseph's resistance seems right on the edge of becoming active. A more confrontational stance on Joseph's part would explain his sudden fear when he realizes that his reaction to the angel is inappropriate.
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Old 07-25-2018, 11:46 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

Your usual fine work, I think, though like Julie I'm unsure this is one of Rilke's best. I also shared a reaction with Julie: ""Struggled" in L1 seems off, tonally speaking. The word makes me think of Jacob/Israel. In contrast, in this scenario, Joseph is the only one who seems aggressive."
I don't picture angels as struggling in their interactions with people, outside of very special circumstances (Jacob). My view of them, FWIW is better captured in Caravaggio's (destroyed) Matthew and the Angel, where Matthew toils and the angel is Apollonian:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_..._and_the_Angel

I'll be back, but wanted to share that quick reaction.

Cheers,
John
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Old 07-26-2018, 06:47 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Hi Susan,

To me the third stanza is delightfully Rilkean. I hear what Julie says about the poem not being one of Rilke’s best, but for me it’s worth it for that third stanza.

“Cap” to me sounds somehow anachronistic. I know it’s the right translation of the German, but I wonder if there is a better word.

The syntax here seems a bit tangled:

And as he raised his gaze
back to the angel, truly frightened now,
he wasn’t there.


Of course I know the story so I know what you mean, but grammatically it seems it’s the angel who was frightened -- and fled.

M
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Old 07-26-2018, 02:09 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, I have taken your suggestion (and John's) that "struggled" felt wrong for the context, so I have changed it. Though I would not call this one of Rilke's best poems, what charmed me about it was S3 and the fact that the angel seems to lose his temper and yells at Joseph. To me, that humanizes the angel in an interesting way, and that is probably why I originally chose "struggled" to convey his efforts to convince the man. I orginally had "balled/fold" as rhymes in S1, but that required the inversion "whose hands in fists were tightly balled," and I was trying to avoid that awkwardness. I think Rilke uses the image of a fold to suggest something that has an inside and an outside. So, yes, I think there is an allusion to Mary's genitals, but it is highly metaphoric. I try not to change the oddities of Rilke's metaphors, because I think their oddness is quite deliberate. I originally had "sullenly" instead of "glumly," and I think I will return to that.

John, see my note to Julie above.

Michael, I agree with you about S3. But I think Rilke meant "cap." Tradesmen like carpenters traditionally would wear caps, so even if it is not historically accurate for Joseph's time, Rilke wants us to see him as an ordinary tradesman. I regretted the ambiguity of "he" in "he wasn't there." I was tempted to substitute "it," except that Rilke has been referring to the angel as a he. I may just have to leave the "truly frightened now" ambiguous, because I need the "now" for the rhyme.

Susan
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Old 07-26-2018, 10:59 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Not to rain on anyone else's enjoyment, but S3's image of wood bursting into bloom, in connection with Joseph and Mary, seemed like well-trod territory to me. Maybe I'm just a jaded old grump. Or have too much Catholic art history rattling around in my brain. I'm still bitter that I didn't get to see Giotto's frescos relating to that story when I was in Padua.

[On second thought, it seems to me that Rilke (who was raised Catholic) expects the reader to know that non-Biblical story (which is perhaps unfamiliar to Protestants). It also seems to me that the poem implies that the angel's mention of the blooming wood in S3 suddenly jogs Joseph's memory of that pre-betrothal miracle, thus explaining the "He understood" at the beginning of S4.]

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 07-26-2018 at 11:17 PM.
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Old 07-26-2018, 11:28 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Here's a non-Catholic who's never run into that story. However, seeing it, I'd argue that the angel means exactly that in his words to Joseph. My take at least.

Cheers,
John
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Old 07-27-2018, 09:03 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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I'm also non-Catholic and had never heard the story you mention, Julie. I don't think Rilke is using it as a reminder to Joseph of something that has happened to him earlier, but as a reminder of the miraculous power of God. Rilke to me seems to be treating the story in a very realistic way as far as the presentation of Joseph is concerned. The angel and the mention of God's miraculous power are in contrast to that realism. I think readers are supposed to feel the tension between those two worlds.

Susan
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Old 07-29-2018, 12:11 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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You may not have heard the story, but surely you've seen depictions of St. Joseph with a blooming staff or a blooming lily rod. Sometimes simultaneously with the tools of his carpenter trade. So I think that even if I convince you of nothing else, I can convince you that it's a reasonably familiar association.











[The fifth image I found is a good one, but annoyingly large, so you'll have to follow the link http://www.ccwatershed.org/media/pho...S%20Joseph.jpg to see it. When I put the image here, it messed up the formatting of the whole thread.]

If you were to go with something like "his fists were tightly balled" in L2, you could imply the hands without mentioning them in an inversion. But if you don't want to, that's fine.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 07-29-2018 at 12:24 AM.
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Old 07-29-2018, 12:12 AM
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