Friday, 18 August 2017

"Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen..."

Another translation of a Rilke poem, from the Sonnets to Orpheus, part II (29). Apart from the first tercet, which with its injunction to sensuous experience seems to be the centre of the poem, I enjoy the gradually unfolding ambiguity of address here, taking us from the bell as "friend of far distances" through its symbolization of human suffering and experience to free images that seem only to relate to humanity. Or perhaps music is the other addressee at the poem's end: the sound of the bell, that as sound must flow and die away, but in its immovable place and function marks the present moment, the nunc stans...

Still friend of far distances, the hour
Lets you breathe now, that vast space restoring
Beyond the dark and narrow-beamed bell-tower
Where you toll. That power which is drawing

On you: know it draws its strength thereby.
Move in and out, with change your course align;
When the bitter cup's before you, why
Then touch it? Rather turn yourself to wine.

Tonight the dark is uncontained, it lets you
Be at the crossing of your senses, know
The strange and binding power in their hand.

And if every worldly form forgets you,
Whisper to the silent earth: I flow,
To the water's swiftness: here I stand.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ballad of Outward Life

My attempt at translating one of the young Hugo von Hofmannsthal's most famous lyrics, "Ballade des äußeren Lebens", in terza rima (the metre used by Dante but rarely by anyone else):

"Ballad of Outward Life"

And children grow up with their eyes so deep,
Yet knowing nothing - they grow up and die,
And all men go their ways, as if asleep.

And bitter fruits shall turn sweet, by and by
And shall, like dead birds, drop upon the ground,
And there a few days festering they'll lie.

And the wind blows still. We hear the sound
Of so many words, and our words leave few traces,
And we feel our bodies by sweet weariness bound.

And roads run through the grass, to places
Torchlit, that with trees and pools exhale,
Or threaten with their deathly, withered faces.

Why were they constructed? And if they'll
All differ, will each bear a different name?
In turn must we then weep, laugh, and grow pale?

What use all this to us, what use this game
To us, grown men that we are, lonely still,
Who, wandering, long ago forgot our aim?

Was it to see these things that we left home?
Yet speak out loud, now, this one word -
"Evening"; from it deep and sad thoughts spill

Like thick, dark honey from the hollow comb.

Sunday, 27 September 2015


A seasonal translation of Rilke's poem "Herbsttag":

Lord, it is time. Great summer is no more.
Set thy shadows upon the sundials' faces;
And through grassy spaces let the harsh winds roar.

Bid the last fruits take on ripened shape,
Grant them but a few more southern days,
Push them toward fulfilment then, to raise
A final sweetness in the heavy grape.

Too late for the homeless now their roofs to build;
And for him that lives alone - he'll long live so,
He'll read by night, compose long letters, go
Roaming up and down in avenues filled
With restlessness, and leaves that sharp gusts blow.