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Friday, June 12, 2009

Poems by Rilke

It would be nice to at least be able to read German so I could read his poems in their original form. I wonder what is lost in translation?

Years ago, in my early 20s, I copied several of his poems into a spiral notebook. I did not take note of who the translator was. Something I regret, for in the intervening years I have read other translations of some of the poems I copied and have not liked them quite so well. As an example I have given two versions of one poem. Even the titles are different. The second version is from my notebook.


Whoever you are: step out into the evening
out of your living room, where everything is so known;
your house stands as the last thing before great space:
Whoever you are.
With your eyes, which in their fatigue can just barely
free themselves from the worn-out thresholds,very slowly, lift a single black tree
and place it against the sky, slender and alone.
With this you have made the world. And it is large
and like a word that is still ripening in silence.
And, just as your will grasps their meaning,
they in turn will let go, delicately, of your eyes . . .


Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scare lift themselves from that worn-out door-stone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
When you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go.

Here are two more from my notebook.


Solitude is like a rain.
It rises from the sea to meet the evening;
it rises from the dim, far distant plain
toward the sky, as by an old birthright.
And thence falls on the city from the height.

If falls like rain in that gray doubtful hour
when all the streets are turning toward the dawn,
and when those bodies, with all hope foregone
of what they sought, are sorrowfully alone;
and when all men who hate each other, creep
together in on common bed for sleep;

the solitude flows onward with the rivers...

A Woman's Fate

Even as a king out hunting seized a glass,
something to drink from - any glass, no matter -
and someone after that in a sure place
put the slight thing away, to guard it better:

thus destiny, which also has a thirst,
picked up this woman, drank of her till slated,
an afterward some trivial fellow durst
not put her to her use, for fear she break,

and stuck her in that careful cupboard where
one cherishes all costly things and rare
(or things that people fancy have some worth).

And there she stood, as strange as something loaned
slowly growing merely old and blind,
and was not prized and never rare on earth.


  1. It's amazing how language translations can change a poem so much. Thanks for sharing these, Bish. I really like "Solitude".

  2. That last one is sad...

    I also wonder what gets lost in translation. The first poem sounds like a more literal translation, but I like the rhythm of the second.

  3. It's because of translation issues that now I pay attention to who the translator is ... yup, it matters.

    Thanks Bish. I liked the second translation better than the first. Loved solitude ...

  4. Great poems, Bish. I really liked reading how the first two translated so differently.

  5. I prefer the second translation too; the first one sounds as though the translator was bending over backwards to keep to the original. Translating poetry is terribly hard and poorly paid; anyone who does it does it for the love.

  6. Not sure if you wanted to know or not but C. F. MacIntyre is the translator of the note book poems

  7. Thank you Sasha! Now I know what book to look for!


Your Random Thoughts are most welcome!