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Default Rilke, David Sings Before Saul

David Sings Before Saul
by Rainer Maria Rilke


King, do you hear the way my harping casts
forth distances through which we move: the stars
drift toward us in confusion, and at last
we, too, are falling like a rain, and where
that rain fell down is bursting into flower.

The young girls bloom, whom you still knew as yours,
who now are women and seducing me.
You can perceive the virgins’ fragrancy,
and young boys stand, stretched taut with urgency,
slender and breathing, at secluded doors.

That my sound would have power to bring it back
to you! But my voice staggers like a drunk.
Those nights of yours, O king, those nights of yours—
and they were lovely, those your deeds made weak,
O how attractive all those bodies were.

Your memories I think I capture, for
I guess at them. Yet on what harp strings might
I play you their dark moanings of delight?—

David singt vor Saul


König, hörst du, wie mein Saitenspiel
Fernen wirft, durch die wir uns bewegen:
Sterne treiben uns verwirrt entgegen,
und wir fallen endlich wie ein Regen,
und es blüht, wo dieser Regen fiel.

Mädchen blühen, die du noch erkannt,
die jetzt Frauen sind und mich verführen;
den Geruch der Jungfraun kannst du spüren,
und die Knaben stehen, angespannt
schlank und atmend, an verschwiegnen Türen.

Dass mein Klang dir alles wiederbrächte.
Aber trunken taumelt mein Getön:
Deine Nächte, König, deine Nächte -,
und wie waren, die dein Schaffen schwächte,
o wie waren alle Leiber schön.

Dein Erinnern glaub ich zu begleiten,
weil ich ahne. Doch auf welchen Saiten
greif ich dir ihr dunkles Lustgestöhn? -

Literal translation:
David Sings Before Saul


King, do you hear how my string-playing
casts forth distances, through which we move:
stars drift toward us, confused,
and we fall at last like a rain,
and it blooms where that rain fell.

Young girls bloom, whom you still knew,
who now are women and seduce me;
you can perceive the scent of virgins,
and the young boys stand, tensed,
slim and breathing, at secluded doors.

That my sound would bring everything back to you.
But my voice staggers drunkenly:
your nights, King, your nights--
and how lovely they were, whom your works made weak,
O how lovely were all the bodies.

Your memories I think I keep pace with,
since I guess at them. But on what strings
might I play for you their dark moans of pleasure?—


King, you who had possession of all this
and you who with your sheer vitality
have overwhelmed and overshadowed me:
come down from your high throne and smash to bits
my harp, which you’ve worn out so thoroughly.

It’s like a tree that’s lost its leaves: between
the branches that once bore you fruit now gaze
vast depths, as if of days still coming on—
and which I almost cannot recognize.

Let me not sleep beside my harp, not now;
look at this boyish hand right here: do you
assume, King, that it still does not know how
to play the octaves of a body, too?


König, der du alles dieses hattest
und der du mit lauter Leben mich
überwältigest und überschattest:
komm aus deinem Throne und zerbrich
meine Harfe, die du so ermattest.

Sie ist wie ein abgenommner Baum:
durch die Zweige, die dir Frucht getragen,
schaut jetzt eine Tiefe wie von Tagen
welche kommen -, und ich kenn sie kaum.

Lass mich nicht mehr bei der Harfe schlafen;
sieh dir diese Knabenhand da an:
glaubst du, König, dass sie die Oktaven
eines Leibes noch nicht greifen kann?

Literal translation:


King, you who had all of this
and you who with your sheer vitality
overwhelmed and overshadowed me:
come down from your throne and smash up
my harp, which you so exhaust.

It is like a tree stripped bare:
through the branches, which bore fruit for you,
now gazes an abyss as if of days
that are coming—and I hardly recognize them.

Let me no longer sleep beside my harp;
look upon this boyish hand here:
do you believe, King, that it still
cannot play the octaves of a body?


King, you conceal yourself in darkness, though
nevertheless I have you in my hold.
Look, my steadfast song is not laid low,
and the space around us both is growing cold.
My orphaned heart and your confused one hang
in storm-clouds of your angry enmity,
biting into each other furiously
and joined by claws into a single thing.

Do you now feel how we transform each other?
O King, O King, weight changes into soul.
If only we hold on to one another,
you to the youthful, King, I to the old,
we’re almost like a pair of circling stars.


König, birgst du dich in Finsternissen,
und ich hab dich doch in der Gewalt.
Sieh, mein festes Lied ist nicht gerissen,
und der Raum wird um uns beide kalt.
Mein verwaistes Herz und dein verworrnes
hängen in den Wolken deines Zornes,
wütend ineinander eingebissen
und zu einem einzigen verkrallt.

Fühlst du jetzt, wie wir uns umgestalten?
König, König, das Gewicht wird Geist.
Wenn wir uns nur aneinander halten,
du am Jungen, König, ich am Alten,
sind wir fast wie ein Gestirn das kreist.

Literal translation:


King, you hide yourself in darknesses,
and I nevertheless have you in my hold.
Look, my steadfast song is not broken,
and the space around us both is growing cold.
My orphaned heart and your confused one
hang in the clouds of your rage,
furiously biting into one another
and clawed together into a single being.

Do you feel now how we are changing ourselves?
King, King, weight is becoming spirit.
If we only hold on to one another,
you to the young, King, I to the old,
we are almost like a star that circles.
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