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Old 09-02-2018, 08:15 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Roman Sarcophagi

Roman Sarcophagi
by Rainer Maria Rilke

But what prevents us from believing that
(as we too are set down and put in place)
it isn’t long that urgency and hate
and this confusion linger on in us,

as once in the ornate sarcophagus
with ribbons, rings, glass, images of gods,
there lay in slowly self-consuming dress
a thing that gradually dissolved—

till swallowed up by unknown mouths that never
say anything. (Where does a brain abide
and think, that someday will make use of them?)

And afterward, water that lasts forever
from ancient aqueducts was poured inside—
that now reflects and shines and moves in them.


Revisions:
S1L2 "put" was "ranged"
S2L1 "the" was "this"
S2L3 "self-consuming" was "decomposing"
S3L2 "brain" was "mind"
S4L1 "afterward" was "afterwards"


Römische Sarkophage

Was aber hindert uns zu glauben, dass
(so wie wir hingestellt sind und verteilt)
nicht eine kleine Zeit nur Drang und Hass
und dies Verwirrende in uns verweilt,

wie einst in dem verzierten Sarkophag
bei Ringen, Götterbildern, Gläsern, Bändern,
in langsam sich verzehrenden Gewändern
ein langsam Aufgelöstes lag—

bis es die unbekannten Munde schluckten,
die niemals reden. (Wo besteht und denkt
ein Hirn, um ihrer einst sich zu bedienen?)

Da wurde von den alten Aquädukten
ewiges Wasser in sie eingelenkt -:
das spiegelt jetzt und geht und glänzt in ihnen.


Literal translation:
Roman Sarcophagi

But what prevents us from believing that
(just as we are set down and assigned places)
for only a brief time urges and hatred
and this confusion persist in us,

just as once in the ornate sarcophagus
with rings, images of gods, glass, ribbons,
in slowly self-consuming robes
something lay slowly dissolving—

until it was swallowed by those unknown mouths
that never speak. (Where does a brain
wait and think, that will employ them one day?)

Then from the ancient aqueducts
eternal water was guided into them—:
that reflects now and moves and glitters in them.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 09-07-2018 at 10:46 AM.
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  #2  
Old 09-05-2018, 07:42 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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I enjoyed this, Susan. What stood out as needing adjustments, for me with my lack of German and by following your crib and looking up a couple of words, is the first octave.

First off, the rhymes: it is ambiguous whether you mean to pair “that/hate” and “place/us” or if you were looser and only aimed for assonance with “place/hate.” Since the second octave makes the ABAB scheme more distinct, I think the first one should too.

Also, what does “ranged in place” mean? The phrase doesn’t register for me, though “spread around,” in the crib, does give an image of decomposition and becoming worm food, as they say. Since “verteilt” does mean more like “distributed” or “scattered,” I think the translation should be closer to that.
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Old 09-05-2018, 09:18 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks for the suggestions, Andrew. I hadn't realized that the rhyme scheme was ambiguous or that "ranged in place" was not clear. I think what is being "ranged in place" (by which I meant "systematically put down in some kind of order") were the sarcophagi, on the one hand, and the people on the other. Rilke is imagining some intelligence that puts people in particular locations, just as the Romans located their sarcophagi along the roads that led out of town. That image has nothing to do with the decomposing of the bodies inside the sarcophagi, so I perhaps should change "spread around" in the crib. I will think of how best to address your other suggestions.

Susan
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Old 09-05-2018, 10:18 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Andrew, I tried to find alternate rhymes for the first stanza, but nothing would work that conveyed the same ideas. It occurred to me that "ranged" is an unusual enough word that it might be contributing to the confusion, so I have experimented with substituting "put" for it.

Susan
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Old 09-07-2018, 06:21 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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“Set” works great instead of “ranged.” The meaning comes across much better now.

What I meant about the rhyming in the first octave is that the second one has “sarcophagus/dress” and “gods/dissolved,” i.e. uses assonance for the off-rhyming, while “that/hate” and “us/place” does not. Since the sestet uses true rhyme, to me it would come across as more intentionally crafted to have both quatrains follow the same pattern as one another.
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Old 09-07-2018, 07:47 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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I’m struggling with the third line on this one, Susan. That “nicht” at the beginning, followed by “nur”: the only sense I can make of it is “not only” or “not just” or “not merely”. This would alter the flavor of the poem dramatically, I suspect.

My German was never that great, so I may be wrong here, and I'd welcome the input of native speakers.

M
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Old 09-07-2018, 08:39 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Dear Susan

Some brief observations on your crib…

I think “verteilt” here means something like “allocated” or “allotted”.

A perhaps minor point… In “in dem verzierten Sarkophag” “dem” is “the”, not “this”.

In “langsam sich verzehrenden Gewändern” I think the reflexive is important, indicating something like “garments slowly self-consumed”. Also, I’m not sure "garments” quite catches the register of “Gewändern”, which has elevated, ritual or ceremonial connotations.

“Hirn” does not really translate as “mind’ (for which the German in this sense might be “Geist” or “Verstand”). “Hirn” signifies the physical substance of the brain, as it might be something edible, as distinct from “Gehirn”, the straight equivalent for “brain”. This nuance is important in underlining the horror of the image.

I hope this is helpful in your work on this fine poem.

Clive

Last edited by Clive Watkins; 09-07-2018 at 10:13 AM. Reason: Typo...
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Old 09-07-2018, 10:10 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks for the additional responses.

Andrew, I saw all of the rhymes in the octave as being consonant rhymes, with the last one being a partial consonant rhyme (just as that line is also cut short by a foot). I admit that the similarity of vowels in "gods/dissolved" was something I considered, but mainly because I thought it would help readers see the partial rhyme in the consonants.

Michael, I think the "nicht . . . nur" combination here suggests "not but a short time," i.e., for only a short time.

Clive, I just saw your reply as I was replying to the others, so it will take me a moment to look into your suggestions, and I will respond later.

Susan
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Old 09-07-2018, 10:42 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Clive, I have taken all of your suggestions for the crib and have used them as well in the translation, except that "dress" in the translation is in rhyme-position and cannot easily be changed to something more specific. Though I agree that an ornate sarcophagus would probably have contained a body dressed in fancy or ceremonial clothing, Rilke seems to be using the sarcophagus as a metaphor for any body, not just the bodies of the wealthy, so perhaps the less specific word can still work in this context.

Susan
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Old 09-08-2018, 04:59 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Hi Susan,

Hmmmm. That "nicht" still bothers me, but I'm probably being obtuse.

In S4L2, what do people think that "sie" refers to? Sarkophage? Munde? Either or both?

M

Last edited by Michael Ferris; 09-08-2018 at 05:02 AM. Reason: spelling
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