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Unread 05-24-2021, 10:56 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, The Portal

The Portal
by Rainer Maria Rilke

I.

There they remained, as if that flood had withdrawn
whose massive surge had washed against these stones
until they were produced; in going down,
it bore off many attributes from their hands,

much too good and generous to hold
on tight to any object. They remained,
distinguished on the figures in basalt
by here a halo, there a bishop’s hat,

and sometimes by a smile, for which a face
had saved up all its hours of peacefulness,
as if it were a clock whose face is stopped;

moved back now into the emptiness of their door,
they formerly had been the shell of an ear
in which this city’s every groan was caught.


Revisions:
S1L1 "flood" was "tide" and "had withdrawn" was "withdrew"
S1L2 "surge had" was "surges"
S1L3 "in going down" was "it took away"
S1L4 "it bore off" was "in ebbing"
S2 was:
much too good and giving to hold on
tightly to any object. They remained,
distinguished on the forms in basalt stone
by a halo, by the hat of a bishop, and
S3L1 "and sometimes" was "from time to time"
S4L1 "moved back" was "withdrawn"


Das Portal

I

Da blieben sie, als wäre jene Flut
zurückgetreten, deren großes Branden
an diesen Steinen wusch, bis sie entstanden;
sie nahm im Fallen manches Attribut

aus ihren Händen, welche viel zu gut
und gebend sind, um etwas festzuhalten.
Sie blieben, von den Formen in Basalten
durch einen Nimbus, einen Bischofshut,

bisweilen durch ein Lächeln unterschieden,
für das ein Antlitz seiner Stunden Frieden
bewahrt hat als ein stilles Zifferblatt;

jetzt fortgerückt ins Leere ihres Tores,
waren sie einst die Muschel eines Ohres
und fingen jedes Stöhnen dieser Stadt.


Literal translation:
The Portal

I.

There they remained, as though that flood had
withdrawn whose great surge
had washed against these stones until they were produced;
in ebbing, it took away many attributes

from their hands, which are much too good
and giving to hold tight to anything.
They remained, distinguished among the shapes
in basalt by a halo, a bishop’s hat,

now and then by a smile,
for which a face had saved up its hours of peace,
as if it were a stilled clock face;

now moved back into the emptiness of their door,
they once were the shell of an ear
and caught every groan of this city.


II.

By this is signified immensities:
as by the wings and backdrops of a scene,
a world is meant, and as the hero in
the mantle of his story strides though those,

just so this portal's darkness strides, performing,
onto the tragic theater of its depths,
like God the Father, fluid and borderless,
and, just like Him, miraculously transforming

into a Son, who is divided here
among a host of small, near-silent roles
drawn from the repertoire of misery.

For only from the blind, the cast away,
and the mad does there arise (as we know well)
the Savior, like an actor without peer.


Revisions:
S1L2 "wings" was "sets"; removed comma after "as"
S3L2 was "among many small and nearly silent roles"


II

Sehr viele Weite ist gemeint damit:
so wie mit den Kulissen einer Szene
die Welt gemeint ist; und so wie durch jene
der Held im Mantel seiner Handlung tritt: -

so tritt das Dunkel dieses Tores handelnd
auf seiner Tiefe tragisches Theater,
so grenzenlos und wallend wie Gott-Vater
und so wie Er sich wunderlich verwandelnd

in einen Sohn, der aufgeteilt ist hier
auf viele kleine beinah stumme Rollen,
genommen aus des Elends Zubehör.

Denn nur noch so entsteht (das wissen wir)
aus Blinden, Fortgeworfenen und Tollen
der Heiland wie ein einziger Akteur.


Literal translation:
II.

By this is signified very great expanses:
just as with the backdrops of a scene
the world is signified, and just as through those
the hero walks in the mantle of his story,

so walks the darkness of this portal, acting,
onto the tragic theater of its depths,
as boundless and fluid as God the Father,
and just like Him transforming wondrously

into a Son, who is divided here
among many small, nearly silent roles
taken from the components of misery.

Because only thus (as we know) arises—
from the blind, the cast away, and the mad—
the Savior, like a peerless actor.



III.

So they loom, their heartbeats stilled (they stand
eternally and never walked); at times—
but rarely—from their drapery’s folds there comes
a gesture, upright, steep as they are, and,

after just half a step, it ceases, while
centuries overtake and pass them by.
They stand in perfect balance on their consoles,
on which a world that they don’t ever see,

the world of turmoil they did not stamp out,
figure and beast, as if to do them harm,
writhe and shake and yet uphold them still:

because, like acrobats, the squirming forms
there only act so wild and writhe about
so that the staff their forehead bears won’t fall.


Revisions:
S1L2-3 was "eternally and never walked at all); / rarely, there steps forth from their drapery’s fall"


III

So ragen sie, die Herzen angehalten
(sie stehn auf Ewigkeit und gingen nie);
nur selten tritt aus dem Gefäll der Falten
eine Gebärde, aufrecht, steil wie sie,

und bleibt nach einem halben Schritte stehn
wo die Jahrhunderte sie überholen.
Sie sind im Gleichgewicht auf den Konsolen,
in denen eine Welt, die sie nicht sehn,

die Welt der Wirrnis, die sie nicht zertraten,
Figur und Tier, wie um sie zu gefährden,
sich krümmt und schüttelt und sie dennoch hält:

weil die Gestalten dort wie Akrobaten
sich nur so zuckend und so wild gebärden,
damit der Stab auf ihrer Stirn nicht fällt.


Literal translation:
III.

Thus they loom, their hearts halted
(they stand for eternity and never walked);
only rarely steps forth from the fall of their folds
a gesture, upright, steep as they,

and ceases after half a step
while the centuries pass them by.
They are in balance on their consoles,
on which a world that they do not see,

the world of turmoil, which they did not stamp out,
figure and animal, as though to harm them,
writhe and shake and yet hold them up:

because the shapes there, like acrobats,
only twitch so and act so wildly
so that the staff on their forehead does not fall.


Note: This series of poems is part of a larger series about elements of a cathedral.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 05-27-2021 at 03:32 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 05-25-2021, 06:27 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

This is a long one, so bear with me. It's bold, as usual, and as usual I like it, FWIW. So: tide for Flut seems ok to me, though you've made a choice. I regret withdrew for waere ... zurueckgetreten. Branden is singular of course. Something might be done with giving to hold on, in which gebend becomes a bit slippery to my ear. I don't much care for basalt stone, since basalt is stone. I like your "as if it were..." Tores is not Tueres. And I would love you to do something with your meter, for instance by removing "by" in "from time to time by a smile, for which a face." In general, I'd say slow down here, from where I'm standing. Not that I could translate this, obviously.
I'll comment on the next two pieces separately.

John
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Unread 05-25-2021, 06:37 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

OK, II. I like immensities. Kulissen I think are not sets and backdrops. The wings, perhaps in English? Mantle for Mantel is natural but I regret its obvious German meaning. The Brandenburger Tor is not really a portal, but the rest here I like. The repertoire of misery I think is superb. It's hard to match the beauty of Rilke's music at the end here, but i wish it could be done. I like your "For only ..." like a good deal. I think Rilke's right about the Savior. And I might give Actor a capital letter, since Akteur stands out of course in German. That's it.

Best of luck with this,
John
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Unread 05-25-2021, 06:39 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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NB the word like shows up twice in one sentence of mine above. Delete one as you read, folks!

John
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Unread 05-25-2021, 04:46 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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John, it is good to see you again. Thank you for your helpful suggestions. I have taken many of them. I have changed "Flut" back to "flood," since it does seem to refer to something that came and went instead of something that appears repeatedly. I have sometimes been inaccurate in conveying the exact tense of verbs in my efforts to achieve slant rhymes. I have now tried to tighten up that tendency, even at the risk of occasionally making the meter bumpier. For "Tores" the reference is to a door of a cathedral, not any kind of gate. "Kulissen," according to my dictionary, can be both wings and backdrops, as well as just scenery. I would normally avoid "mantle," since it is not a current word, but it is describing an actor on stage, so the rather archaic term seemed to fit that context, and I needed a two-syllable word for the meter. I wish I could claim credit for "repertoire of misery," but Edward Snow had used "misery's repertoire" in this context, and each word seemed so perfect that I couldn't find any better replacement. I capitalized "Savior" because that is traditional, but I hesitate to do the same for "actor," even when it also refers to Jesus.

Susan
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Unread 05-26-2021, 05:46 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

I am as always glad to be of use. It sounds as though you've engaged with my scattering of remarks and separated wheat from chaff in them, which is what I like. It is rewarding to bring a little stone to the pile. My point about Akteur is the German habit of using Frenchified vocabulary - akzeptabel - to make a tonal point, which the bare "actor" risks losing. Goethe does a lot of it in Faust, with Mephistopheles.

Nice poem as always. I look forward to seeing the eventual book.

Regards,
John
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Unread 05-27-2021, 07:51 AM
mignon ledgard mignon ledgard is offline
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Default Susan McLean's Portal -Rilke

Susan,

I've been reading and enjoying your translation of The Portal.

I think the first part reads smoothly and pleasantly now--it is my favorite of the three. The third one is fine, too, but I'll have to come back about the second one, which, to me, doesn't flow as well, but I haven't pinned down why and it could just be me.

I've been taking notes, but I'm terribly slow. Maybe I'll have something more before it's completed.

I, too, would like a book of your Rilke translations. What a brave and noble endeavor, what dedication, and, most of all, how lovingly you work on them and how this shows.

Thank you!
~mignon
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Unread 05-27-2021, 03:54 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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I have made a couple of small revisions to the second and third poem.

John, I am never sure how to deal with Rilke's occasional use of a French word in place of a German one. I usually feel that the disadvantages of inserting French into the poem outweigh the nuances conveyed by the shift of languages. I don't think capitalizing "actor" would help much. My intended audience is mainly American readers, and either a French term or a capitalization is likely to be a stumbling block for some.

Mignon, the second poem in this series is confusing. It is hard to picture darkness as an actor on the theater stage of the cathedral door, though Monet's series of paintings of the light effects on the Rouen cathedral may give some idea of what Rilke is going for here. I picture the light (and dark) moving across the scenes portrayed around the door, picking out first this scene and then that, some portraying God and some portraying Jesus.

I don't see translating poetry as a job, but as a calling. No one asked me to do it. I just translate the poems that move me to work on them. I have no deadline, so it takes however long it takes until I am satisfied. But I am always glad to hear that readers have enjoyed the translation, just as I am glad to get suggestions on ways to improve it.

Susan
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Unread 05-28-2021, 09:06 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

I particularly like your last paragraph above. It's why I write as well, though I essentially never translate. Perhaps I ought to. In any case, your translations are consistently top-notch in my estimation, and besides being one of my small handful of favorite poets, Rilke is by no means easy to translate, that much is obvious I would think to all. Let us know when you are bringing a book out, I would gladly purchase a copy.

Regards,
John
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