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“I could see the magnificent workmanship of those legs (they are like rifles from which leaps are fired).”
-in a letter to his wife.
Lady on the Balcony
Suddenly she appears, wrapped in wind,
light in light, an outline,
while the background of the room
fills the door behind her
like the darkness of a silhouette,
a shimmer about the edge;
and you think evening is gone
before she arrived to touch the rail,
just a thread of herself,
just her hand, hardly there at all:
like a line of houses in the sky,
sufficient, moved by all.
tr. by Remy Wilkins
Once I was as tender as young wheat,
yet you, you raging one, were able
to inflame the heart held out to you
so that now it boils like a lion’s.
What a mouth you demanded of me,
back then when I was almost a boy;
it became a wound; out of it now
bleeds year after doom-pronounced year.
Each day I sounded with new afflictions
which you, insatiate one, devised,
and none of them could kill my mouth;
consider now how you will quiet it
when those we devastate and crush
are finally lost and driven far away
and have perished in the danger:
for I want then amidst the rubble-heaps
finally to hear my own voice again –
which from its first moments was a howling.
-tr. Edward Snow
I was recently reminded that I was nearly finished with a translation of Rilke’s The Beggars. After much searching I’ve found it and have only tweaked in marginally. My first is found here: Autumn Day and my second is found here: Abishag.
You didn’t know of what that heap
enclosed. The stranger found
beggars there. They hock
the hollows of their hands.
They show that tourist
their mouths, filled with rot,
to see (he can pay the price)
how disease will eat.
In their cruel eyes
his foreign face is marred
and they laugh when he acts
and spit when he tries to speak.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
tr. by Remy Wilkins
[Click below for two other translations]
I put my hand to another Rilke poem to translate, this time Abishag. My previous attempt of his poem “Autumn Day” is here, and I realize that I never posted my translation of his poem “The Beggars”, which I’ll try to post in a few days.
I’m not quite as happy with this one as with the other, but I submit it here for your thought. Consider this a first draft.
She lay. And her child arms were bound
by servants around that wilting man,
so on she lay, the sweet long hours,
the little one worried by his many years.
And sometimes she turned into his beard
her face, if an owl screeched;
and all, that was the night, came and circled
with fear and desire around them.
The stars match her trembling,
a scent searches amidst the room,
a curtain stirs and gives a sign,
a sign she follows with her eyes…
She kept near him, the waning old man
and, untaken by the night of nights,
she lay on his accruing chill,
a virgin and as lightly as a soul.
The king sat and recalled the empty day
of finished deeds, untasted lusts
and his favorite dog that he had raised…
but at evening Abishag arched
herself above him. His wild life lay
blank as an abandoned shore
under the starscape of her silent breasts.
And sometimes, as an knowing lover,
from underneath his brow he spies
her emotionless, unkissed mouth;
and saw: her green rod
did not reach into his ground.
He shivered. And he listened like a hound
and searched himself for his trail of blood.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Remy Wilkins
As in one’s hand a lighted match blinds you before
it comes aflame and sends out brilliant flickering
tongues to every side — so, within the ring of the
spectators, her dance begins in hasty, heated rhythms
and spreads itself darting flames around.
And suddenly the dance is altogether flame!
With a fierce glance she sets her hair alight.
Unexpectedly she turns with daring artfulness
the swirling flounces of her dress within this
conflagaration, out of which her upheld naked arms,
clapping the castanets, appear like serpents striking.
And then, afraid her fire were diminishing,
she gathers it all up and flings it down
with an imperious haughty gesture, and watches
as it lies there writhing on the ground, unyielding
and unwilling to concede the dance has ended.
Yet she show victory in her sweet swift smile
as she lifts up her face, while with her small firm feet
she stamps out the last of the dying embers.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming