Poetry Friday: “We are not really at home”

January 15, 2010 @ 9:08 am | Filed under:

For Christmas, Scott gave me the Stephen Mitchell translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. Mitchell puts the original German side by side with his English translation. I read just enough German to be tantalized by this, puzzling out phrases and flicking my gaze to the facing page to see how Mitchell has put it.

Rilke’s language reminds me, curiously, of Madeleine L’Engle’s description of a dolphin’s skin in A Ring of Endless Light (via her young poet, Vicky Austin): “resilient pewter.”

From The Duino Elegies, “The First Elegy,” by Rainer Maria Rilke, this translation by A. S. Kline.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic
Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains
some tree on a slope, that we can see
again each day: there remains to us yesterday’s street,
and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit
that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.
Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,
the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart
with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?
Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.
Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms
to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds
will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.

Read the rest.

This week’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Great Kid Books.

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3 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Tabatha says:

    Lissa, I talked about Rilke and Orpheus for Poetry Friday last week! Neat that you can understand bits and pieces of the German. I think translating poetry has to be one of the most difficult intellectual challenges around.

  2. sarah says:

    how lucky you are to get gifts like that!

  3. Karen Edmisten says:

    Beautiful. Thanks.