Sunday Rilke and Writing

Walter Kaufmann so spoiled me with his excellent Goethe translation, I’m struggling to get back into my Oxford World Classics Rilke. The translations (Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland) are not comparable. The meter is missing. Plus, when I read the German and then the side-by-side English to Deutsch lernen, and then check what I’ve written cribbing from the Rilke, my own poetry doesn’t mean what I thought it meant! How am I supposed to steal from the best with bad translations? So much for authorial intent…

Here are a few Rilke poems from that collection, and my crib thereof. Happy Sunday—and please don’t hesitate to correct my German.

Aus: Larenopfer


Der Träumer (II)

Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—
So wie jene sind sie bunt und reich.
Aus dem Riesenstamm der Lebenssäfte
ziehn sie just wie jene ihre Kräfte,
brüsten sich mit dem ersaugten Blute,
freuen in der flüchtigen Minute,
in der nächsten sind sie tot und bleich.—
Und wenn Welten oben leise gehen,
fühlst du’s dann nicht wie von Düften wehen?
Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—

From Offerings to the Lares

The Dreamer (II)

Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—
Like them brilliant and opulent, 
like them drawing through the giant stem
of living sap the juices of their strength, 
like them flaunting an absorbed life-blood, 
[sic] revelling in the fleetness of the minute, 
then, in the next, pallid as the dead.—
And when, softly, worlds pass overhead, 
do you not feel their winds, flower-scented?
Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—

And Aus: Advent (from Advent):

Das ist mein Streit:
durch alle Tage schweifen.
Dann, stark und breit,
mit tausend Wurzelstreifen
tief in das Leben greifen—
und durch das Leid
weit aus dem Leben reifen,
weit aus der Zeit!

This is my struggle:
dedicated to longing,
to wander the paths of days.
Then sturdied, strong,
with thousand rootlets grasping
deep into the terrain
of life, through pain
to ripen far beyond life and
far beyond time! 

So much Romantic poetry can be read through lenses of despair. I love how Rilke can go darker than the darkest, but still end up saying (as above): Here I am, I am vagabonding but not fleeing, and I am going to take root when it is time, and endure beyond limits.

The word choices are interesting even to me, knowing so little German as yet. Of course Hitler would have chosen a harsher word for struggle than Rilke’s Streit in his Mein Kampf. Kampf sounds more like it could mean punch—while Streit sounds like it could mean straight or street, or a bright light in your eyes. Perhaps uncomfortable in the distinct “Str,” long I of “ei,” and definitive ending “t.” But not aggressive like “K,” and almost flatulent or uncaring (imagine a sighing person saying it) like “ampf.” They’re synonyms, but I wonder if their sense is exactly the same, and only the sound differs? If that’s even possible in language, as far as connotation and felt sense can be separated.

Here’s mine (or maybe my German poetry will be Felicia Faust’s)— blatantly stealing, as poets do, from my friend Rilke:

Bunt und reich,
stark und breit—
neue Kleiden—
tragen Tageseiden.

Colorful and rich,
strong and broad—
wearing new clothes—
wearing days of silk.

Mitleiden is more precisely co-suffering (mit + leiden) than fellow-feeling, but poets will be poets… I suppose I could argue the co-suffering in the German is sarcastic, and sarcasm doesn’t always translate? Oy. I mean it though, in a way, even while it’s sarcastic. Part of a beautiful life, of wearing days of silk, is having community and empathizing with others’ struggles.

I shall call it: “Thinking of Shopping for a Sundress while Sunbathing without and Butchering the Pronunciation and Probably the Sense Also of Rilke”… (Title to be used while wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette, and trying out a new stand-up bit on being a poet, if I ever get around to it.)