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Unread 06-28-2021, 09:38 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, Night Drive

Night Drive (Revised)
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Saint Petersburg

Back when by smooth-paced trotters we were drawn
(black ones, offspring of the Orlov stud),
while out behind the lofty street lamps stood
the city’s night façades at early dawn,
silent, out of synch with the hour, we
drove onward—no, we flew or disappeared
as round the heavy palaces we veered
into the wind of Neva’s quays,

transported by the wakefulness of nights
that are not of the earth and not of heaven—
as the allure of unattended gardens
was rising, heady, from the Letney-Sad,
even while its statues carved of stone,
dwindling with their fading silhouettes,
vanished behind us as we traveled on—

back at the time this city ceased
existing. It admitted suddenly
that it never was, beseeching just for peace;
just as a madman, whose perplexity
betrayed him, when it all at once is gone,
feels the unhealthy, years-long thought, the one
that had been quite impossible to alter
and that he never needs to think again,
plunge—granite—from his empty, reeling brain
until one cannot see it any longer.


Night Drive
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Saint Petersburg

Back when by smooth-paced trotters we were drawn
(black ones, offspring of the Orlov stud),
while out behind the lofty street lamps stood
the city’s night façades at early dawn,
silent, out of synch with the hour, we
drove onward—no, we flew or disappeared
as round the heavy palaces we veered
into the wind of Neva’s quays,

transported by the wakefulness of nights
that are not of this earth and not of heaven—
as the allure of unattended gardens
was rising, heady, from the Letney-Sad,
even while its statues carved of stone,
fading with their fainter silhouettes,
vanished behind us as we traveled on—

back at the time this city ceased
to be. It then admitted suddenly
that it never was, beseeching just for peace;
just as a madman, whose perplexity
betrayed him, when at once it straightens out,
senses the one diseased and years-long thought,
which once was quite impossible to alter
and which he never needs to think again,
plunge—granite—from his empty, reeling brain
until one cannot see it any longer.


Note: The Ljetnij-Ssad (“summer garden”) was a large park belonging to the Tsars.

Revisions:
S1L1 was "Back then, when by sleek trotters we were drawn"
S1L7 "round" was "around" and "heavy" was "ponderous"
S2L1-2 was "transported by the stirring, wakeful night / that has no earth in it and has no heaven—"
S2L6 was "dwindling with their ever fainter outlines,"
S3L7 was "once utterly impossible to alter"
S3L8 comma was a dash
S3L9-10 was "like granite—from his empty, reeling brain / plunge down until it can be seen no more."


Nächtliche Fahrt

Sankt Petersburg

Damals als wir mit den glatten Trabern
(schwarzen, aus dem Orloff'schen Gestüt) -,
wahrend hinter hohen Kandelabern
Stadtnachtfronten lagen, angefrüht,
stumm und keiner Stunde mehr gemäß -,
fuhren, nein: vergingen oder flogen
und um lastende Paläste bogen
in das Wehn der Newa-Quais,

hingerissen durch das wache Nachten,
das nicht Himmel und nicht Erde hat, -
als das Drängende von unbewachten
Garten gärend aus dem Ljetnij-Ssad
aufstieg, während seine Steinfiguren
schwindend mit ohnmächtigen Konturen
hinter uns vergingen, wie wir fuhren -:

damals hörte diese Stadt
auf zu sein. Auf einmal gab sie zu,
dass sie niemals war, um nichts als Ruh
flehend; wie ein Irrer, dem das Wirrn
plötzlich sich entwirrt, das ihn verriet,
und der einen jahrelangen kranken
gar nicht zu verwandelnden Gedanken,
den er nie mehr denken muss: Granit -
aus dem leeren schwankenden Gehirn
fallen fühlt, bis man ihn nicht mehr sieht.


Literal translation:
Night Drive

Saint Petersburg

Back when pulled by the sleek trotters
(black, from the Orlov stud)
while behind tall street lamps
lay the city’s night facades, very early,
mute and no longer fitting the hour,
we drove, no, vanished or flew
and bent around weighty palaces
into the wind of the Neva’s quays,

transported through the wakeful nights,
which have no heaven and no earth—
as the urgings of unattended gardens
rose, fermenting, from the Letney-Sad,
while its stone statues,
dwindling with faint contours,
vanished behind us as we drove—

back when this city ceased
to be. All at once, it admitted
that it never was, begging for
nothing but peace; like a lunatic, whose confusion,
which betrayed him, suddenly untangles,
and he senses the one years-long, diseased,
utterly unchangeable thought,
which he never has to think anymore—granite—
fall from his empty, reeling brain
until it no longer can be seen.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 07-01-2021 at 12:50 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 06-29-2021, 02:30 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Susan,

I might think of making this heterometric and keeping your rhyme scheme. It seems to me you have room for one poem in that format, and I don't think you've caught the crispness and tightness of the German here - it feels a bit padded and fillery to me, dictated I think by your meter. Compare the two opening lines, for instance. Two other details: Das Nachten isn't the night, and Granit isn't like granite. Otherwise, you've mostly got your usual truth to my mind, and some good music. Props.

Update: here to my mind is the problem with trotters: https://www.google.com/search?q=trot...UDCA8&u act=5
Regards,
John

Last edited by John Isbell; 06-29-2021 at 04:40 AM. Reason: trotters
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  #3  
Unread 06-29-2021, 04:16 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
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John, I am grateful again for your suggestions. I am not keen to alter the meter of this to make it heterometric, even though you are right that it is easy to make the English wordy when it is so much more economical than German is. I am trying to capture the flavor of Rilke's meter consistently, so I don't want to have any translations that discard that pattern. I have made a few changes to wording to try to capture the spirit of this more, even if departing more from the literal. I will probably do more tinkering with it, but I am traveling now, so my time for revisions is limited.

Susan
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  #4  
Unread 06-29-2021, 04:19 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Location: TX
Posts: 5,647
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Safe travels and happy trails! We fly to Boston in about three hours.

Cheers,
John
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