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Thread: Translating Rilke

  1. #1

    Default Translating Rilke

    It is hard to ignore the diffuculties and challenges imposed on translators from many languages, when it comes to translate some of Rainer Maria Rilke's works. That's why he is popular with them.Let's start with English translations.....are the ones by Stephen Mitchell superior over the others?

    And not to tease Jtoll but I read once a hrash critique by Marjorie perloff on William Gass translations in his book " "Reading Rilke: reflections on the problems of translation". I would him to comment on it. Here is the link:

    epc.buffalo.edu/authors/perloff/articles/rilke.html

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Yes, Taleb, the Perloff / Gass article looks interesting. I've only skimmed it just now, but will read the detail later.

    I think there is a combination of fetishism and competitiveness in a lot of Rilke translation. Instead of moving on to other poets, translators appear to vie with one another to get the best rendering of Rilke, as the list of the first lines of the Duino indicates.

    You would actually imagine that translations get more subtle as time goes by. But the Galway Kinnell year 2000 version "Who, if I screamed out..." is simply too violent, histrionic and noisy.

    In general, articles like Perloff's are very valuable, as they give those millions of Britons and Americans that don't know a word of German (apart from Achtung, Schweinhund and die verdammte Juden) insights into just how difficult it can be to translate things subtly from that language.

    Before all those gushingly narcissistic translators start screaming about "my version of Rilke", they might do well to analyse and understand what is on the page before them, rather than go into orgasms of New Age ecstasy and vague and woolly empathy.

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    It will always bother me when a poet (it's always a poet) decides to 'render' or 'interpret' another poet, barring full mastery in both languages and a solid knowledge of both cultures. If you don't know the language, oh god, please don't translate the poem! And even for those translators who have significant abilities in both languages, it seems like many translate and then publish books with their own name printed larger than the writer their translating, this automatically makes me wary, and the they don't even have to do this literally, if the praise I read on the cover talks more about the 'fluidity' and the 'strength' of the translation than they do about honesty to the original writer's style and the work itself I have a similar knee-jerk reaction.

    That said, I'm a huge fan of Rilke and Gass. I've read the Duino Elegies in Stephen Mitchell's, A.S. Kline's, Barrows/Macy's (yech *shudder*), and some of Gass' translation. My favorite would have to be Mitchell's but I want to try something more academic because I just felt like Mitchell was restraining something, not giving Rilke's work the darker voice that it rages with. Everything was too light, that's the best way I can describe it.

    I actually had a hold of Gass' book for a while, but even though I think he mentions his fluency in German in an essay (I'll have to see if I can rummage it up) I was more interested in the book than the translations. However, I never did finish the book, so I only got about 70 pages in, far enough that I could compare Perloff's comments against my own experience.

    She makes good points, although I think she reads Gass exactly how he describes himself instead of how he opens up in his work, and her being a native German-speaker does make the essay extremely helpful for understanding the history and approach to Rilke in English translation. In the end I agree with her estimation of Gass' shortcomings as a translator of the Elegies.

    I think the crux of Gass' inability lies in his approach to Rilke from the angle of aesthetic simplicity, this is what makes his translation of Duino seem so unfulfilling, and his translation of the early poetry fantastic. Rilke reaches textual/thematic loftiness and ecstasy in the Elegies, Gass works in a prose-poetry that, while rich in metaphors and lyricism, draws toward the page and toward the earth: simple, reiterative, densly textual. The early work is lyric, metaphor driven, and self-revelatory, Gass has an acute knowledge of Rilke as Perloff points out, and so he consumes biography and is able to decipher the intricate manueverings of all that poetry, and since it doesn't rise too high he grasps it perfectly and gives it English form. The Elegies transcend, they rise past what seem like the pithy blunderings of a small man from their residence above the sky, these words speak through Rilke, they arrive in our minds autonomous and living, like the work of Shakespeare and the best writers. Gass does know Rilke intimately, but it hardly helps here, and he, like so so so many translators, is lost in splendor.

    Rilke is an essential read, the beauty of his work shines even through mangling and 'interpretation', but it's best to find someone faithful to read him by, better still, as Perloff points out, to learn German, either way, Gass' work is, from what I read and from what Perloff writes, a great text on the difficulties of translation, and essential reading for anyone concerned with Rilke and the majority of his poetry.

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    I found I could read his Sonnets To Orpheus in German, with a rare reference to the English translations in the second half of the book, and get a lot out of them. The lyrical beauty doesn't even come close to being captured in the translations, 'like a wandering song' 'do we friend, or do we not' these things just don't flow in English. That said I wouldn't even know were to begin in trying my own translation. I was surprised to find that understanding generally what's being said isn't the same as being able to change it into a new form. I of course didn't do an in depth study, more a gentle reading of it, a simplistic reading which was really merely about appreciating the beauty more than trying to assign meanings and interpretations to it.
    "I am not young enough to know everything" -Oscar Wilde
    "The best way to protect your place in this world is to do nothing at all." -From Ikiru

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Briefly, the first, general paragraph by JTolle just now was:

    It will always bother me when a poet (it's always a poet) decides to 'render' or 'interpret' another poet, barring full mastery in both languages and a solid knowledge of both cultures. If you don't know the language, oh god, please don't translate the poem! And even for those translators who have significant abilities in both languages, it seems like many translate and then publish books with their own name printed larger than the writer their translating, this automatically makes me wary, and the they don't even have to do this literally, if the praise I read on the cover talks more about the 'fluidity' and the 'strength' of the translation than they do about honesty to the original writer's style and the work itself I have a similar knee-jerk reaction.
    Quick reaction on my part, otherwise I'm thread-spoiling as this is principally about Rilke:

    The words "rendering" and "interpreting" are indeed highly suspect. You've got to know the languages, and the cultures. My pet hates are the famous names in play-writing who adapt a version that a real translator has wrestled with. Sod the fluidity, start with the meaning, then tackle rhyme, rhythm, etc.

    I'm not a Rilke expert, but I'm sure I read somewhere that he wrote poetry in French too. Did he, and if so, what happened to it? And did his knowledge of French inform his German-language poems?

  6. #6

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    yes, rilke wrote some 450 poems in french, including the important though often neglected cycles quatrains valaisans, les fenêtres, les roses, vergers. the standard - virtually the only - eng transl till now has been that by A. Poulin (graywolf press, usa) which first appeared in the 80s i think. i'm working at present on a new translation: the valaisian quatrains were published by starborn books last year and vergers is appearing very shortly too. my aim has been to produce a translation that was as exact as possible, avoiding the imposition of my own interprtetation etc, but at the same time preserving as far as possible the formal aspects, including rhyme patterns (though allowing many instances of half-rhyme, assonance etc) and syllable- or foot-count, as far one can transfer metre from a syllable-timed language to a stress-timed one. i don't know about "fluidity" and "strength": as a translator i would be delighted to achieve those qualities if i could do so WITHOUT sacrificing the meaning (both literal and metaphorical etc levels). I would put as much value , though, on the "feel" of the poem - on the impression it makes on the soul of the reader - as on the literal sense. going back to rilke, his greatest inspirers for his french writing were Valéry and Proust, and he was steeped in french culture when he lived in paris - (mallarme, rodin, and the mardistes group etc.) and it certainly played into his german work too...

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    A worthy effort to (re-) translate Rilke's French-language poetry, as he is principally known nowadays for his German ones. And 450 is a lot to choose from. I see that you are a poet in your own right. And your prose work, "The Rub" looks interesting.

    I'm also glad you drew my attention to Starborn Books, because I am looking for a UK publisher to do the odd volume of poems translated from the various languages I know. I've translated plenty of prose over the past decade, but would like to do some poetry too. Where is Starborn based?

    You say:

    my aim has been to produce a translation that was as exact as possible, avoiding the imposition of my own interpretation etc, but at the same time preserving as far as possible the formal aspects, including rhyme patterns (though allowing many instances of half-rhyme, assonance etc) and syllable- or foot-count, as far one can transfer metre from a syllable-timed language to a stress-timed one.
    This is what I too aim at for poetry. (When you're translating a 300-page novel, you have different problems.) Forced rhyme can be taken too far. Contemporary Russian poetry very often rhymes and is therefore harder to translate than much modern poetry, where it is not the national norm to rhyme. Though there is no real excuse for abandoning the rhythm and foot-count. But transferring metre from syllable-timed language, as you put it, is tricky.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    starborn books is v small - ca 40 books to date - and based in cardiff and nuremberg. my book of russian translations "the page and the fire" was published by arc publications though.. i thought you might like to see a sample from the rilke:^


    14


    LA PASSANTE D‘ÉTÉ


    Vois-tu venir sur le chemin, la lente, l‘heureuse,
    celle que l‘on envie, la promeneuse?
    Au tournant de la route il faudrait qu‘elle soit
    saluée par de beaux messieurs d‘autrefois.

    Sous son ombrelle, avec une grâce passive,
    elle exploite la tendre alternative:
    s‘effaçant un instant à la trop brusque lumière,
    elle ramène l‘ombre dont elle s‘éclaire.


    14


    WOMAN WALKING IN SUMMER


    Do you see her, happy, slow, continue—
    the one who walks, who rouses envy in you?
    Surely where the road bends there await her
    fine gentlemen of times gone by to greet her.

    But there‘s another, tender option: she
    flicks her parasol, neatly, gracefully
    and vanishes in sudden luminescence
    a moment, till the shade restores her presence.

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Thanks for that, Peter Oram. Nice to see the original and translation there of the poem. You've done your best not to force the rhyme. What does the word "ramène" mean in this context; I don't know that word? How many of the other 449 have you tackled or are intending tackling?

    I've heard of Arc Publications in Todmorden. They've built up quite a bank of foreign poets over the years. Even one Estonian poet, Kristiina Ehin, though not in my translation, but that of one Ilmar Lehtpere.

    I'm rather encouraged to take a look at Rilke, though initially his German poetry.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    ramener = means to bring back or restore in this context. as you can see i've been fairly free with the syntax in an attempt to preserve the effectiveness of the (paradoxical) image of the light rendering her invisible for a moment and the shadow returning her to sight. i find translating a bit like juggling - you have to keep all the balls (sense, image, intent, mood, rhyme, metre, form----etc) in the air at once, touching each one for an instant but then releasing it to to catch the next - each is important but it's the WHOLE that you always have to keep in mind. Here's another try:


    40


    Un cygne avance sur l‘eau
    tout entouré de lui-même,
    comme un glissant tableau;
    ainsi à certains instants
    un être que l‘on aime
    est tout un espace mouvant.

    Il se rapproche, doublé,
    comme ce cygne qui nage,
    sur notre âme troublée ...
    qui à cet être ajoute
    la tremblante image
    de bonheur et de doute.




    40


    On the lake a swan is gliding;
    surrounded by itself, it seems
    to be a painting slowly sliding.
    Thus a being that one loves
    somehow at times becomes
    a piece of space that moves.

    See how it approaches. Doubled,
    it drifts along, resembling
    the swan, across our troubled
    soul that adds its own dimension
    to this being: an image trembling
    with joy and apprehension.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    interesting that you mention russian poetry - such an incredibly rich body of work that once you enter its world you can be completely bewildered by its breadthand depth and beauty - like walking into e.g. the prado and not knowing where to start looking. it's fascinating too how they interrelate - in fact that was the theme of the book of translations that arc did: all the poems in it were written by one of the poets to, for or about another: pasternak to tsvetaeva, tsvetaeva to blok, blok to akhmhatova, akhmhatova to pasternak etc.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    sorry - forgot to answer your question. i've translated the 37 poems of the quatrains valaisans cycle and also the 76 poems of the vergers cycle, so i suppose that's about a quarter of them. i'll be starting another cycle, probably les roses, some time after christmas. i'm also translating the romanian poet franz hodjak (he writes in german)

  13. #13

    United Arab Emirates Re: Translating Rilke

    Hi Peter and Eric.......thanks to both of you for the valuable posts.....

    Peter........ Two questions:

    1. How well was the reception of Rilke's french poems?

    2. Do the themes, moods, images....etc in Rilke's french poems differ than that of his renowed work in German?

    Thanks

  14. #14

    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    hi taleb - sorry about delay. question 1: dyou mean r's original or my translations of them? if former - they have often been disregarded or thought to be trivia compared to his "real" ie german work - eg the poet hans egon holthusen's dismissed them as whimsical doodling on the side, more or less.(if the latter, a TLS review was nice enough to call them "excellent translations.)

    q.2: i'll reply to this later today - busy at the moment!

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Looking forward to Peter Oram's reply, not least about the way that Rilke's French poems remain relatively forgotten by an English-reading audience.

    Maybe the fact that Rilke's French poems have been dismissed as trivia is because in the English-speaking world, university lecturers, professors and other gurus specialise in French or German, rarely in both.

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Just inexcusably digging up and dusting off this old WLF thread, or maybe that should be WTF thread, but yeah... RILKE, anybody here read him, have any recommendations?
    I seem to come across his name quite often, usually in another work or newspaper article, but despite hearing "about" his work frequently, I never seem to come across a collected or selected works edition of his writing!
    "In fact nothing is said that that has not been said before." -Terence


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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Quote Originally Posted by Hamlet View Post
    Just inexcusably digging up and dusting off this old WLF thread, or maybe that should be WTF thread, but yeah... RILKE, anybody here read him, have any recommendations?
    I seem to come across his name quite often, usually in another work or newspaper article, but despite hearing "about" his work frequently, I never seem to come across a collected or selected works edition of his writing!
    Hamlet, look no further than Stephen Mitchell's The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke: it's the perfect first step into Rilke. Fair warning, after I read that book I was hooked and ended up buying all the Rilke I could get. You may ask why. Let me provide some examples, chosen at random of Rilke's poetry:

    Song of the Drunkard

    It was not in me. It moved in and out.
    When I dared to stop it, the wine won out.
    (What it was, I no longer remember.)
    The wine then offered this and offered that,
    till I became dependent on him, I, fool!

    Now I am part of his game, as he throws me around in utter contempt,
    and surely he will lose me this day to that scavenger, Death.
    When Death wins me, soiled card that I am, he will use me only to
    scratch his sordid scabs and toss me away into the trash.

    Autumn

    The leaves fall, fall as if from far away,
    like withered things from gardens deep in sky;
    they fall as if saying no in their movements.

    And through the night the heavy earth also falls,
    down from the stars, into loneliness.

    And we all fall. This hand must fall.
    Look everywhere: it is the lot of all.

    Yet there is one who holds us as we fall
    and through whose hands nothing will fall.

    1st Duino Elegy

    Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
    and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
    I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
    and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Every angel is terrifying.
    And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
    Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
    Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
    that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.
    Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take into our vision;
    there remains for us yesterday's street and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
    when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
    Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at our faces.
    ...
    Yes --the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
    A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
    or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
    All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?
    Weren't you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?
    (Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
    going and coming and often staying all night.)
    But when you feel longing, sing of women in love; for their famous passion is still not immortal.
    Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
    who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
    Begin again and again the never-attainable praising; remember: the hero lives on;
    even his downfall was merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.

    Tombs of the Hetaerae

    They lie in their long hair, and the brown faces
    have long ago withdrawn into themselves.
    Eyes shut, as though before too great a distance.
    Skeletons, mouths, flowers. Inside the mouths,
    the shiny teeth like rows of pocket chessmen.
    And flowers, yellow pearls, slender bones,
    hands and tunics, woven cloth decaying
    over the shriveled heart. But there, beneath
    those rings, beneath the talismans and gems
    and precious stones like blue eyes (lovers' keepsakes),
    there still remains the silent crypt of sex,
    filled to its vaulted roof with flower-petals.
    And yellow pearls again, unstrung and scattered,
    vessels of fired clay on which their own
    portraits once were painted, the green fragments
    of perfume jars that smelled like flowers, and images
    of little household gods upon their altars:
    courtesan-heavens with enraptured gods.
    Broken waistbands, scarabs carved in jade,
    small statues with enormous genitals,
    a laughing mouth, dancing-girls, runners,
    ...
    And flowers again, pearls that have rolled apart,
    the shining flanks of a little gilded lyre;
    and in between the veils that fall like mist,
    as though it had crept out from the shoe's chrysalis:
    the delicate pale butterfly of the ankle.

    And so they lie, filled to the brim with Things,
    expensive Things, jewels, toys, utensils,
    broken trinkets (how much fell into them!)
    and they darken as a river's bottom darkens.
    For they were riverbeds once,
    and over them in brief, impetuous waves
    (each wanting to prolong itself, forever)
    the bodies of countless adolescents surged;
    and in them roared the currents of grown men.
    And sometimes boys would burst forth from the mountains
    of childhood, would descend in timid streams
    and play with what they found on the river's bottom,
    until the steep slope gripped their consciousness:

    Then they filled, with clear, shallow water,
    the whole breadth of this broad canal, and set
    little whirlpools turning in the depths,
    and for the first time mirrored the green banks
    and distant calls of birds—, while in the sky
    the starry nights of another, sweeter country
    blossomed above them and would never close.
    To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations, such is a pleasure beyond compare.
    Yoshida Kenko

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    Default Re: Translating Rilke

    Ahh... fabulous Sir! You're a gentleman. I'll bookmark that on Amazon (or similar) ...

    He seems too important to overlook, I'll have to pop back in tonight to read the examples you've set out, thanks again for that, above the call of duty!

    (NB, as an aside- pleased I remembered this post, the way WLF is strucutured, it's sometimes hard to remember where you've posed a question or taken part in a thread... one way I use to counter this is to go into profiles as opposed to new posts"... my own PROFILE that is, and follow my last posts or few posts just to see if I've missed anything, where we were discussing, but I don't always remember to do this and what's worse, it may look rude, silence follows a posting! If I don't get back to somebody who has set something out, or if I ever do that folks, it's not intended, just a slip or memory thing... just for the record and all of that...)
    "In fact nothing is said that that has not been said before." -Terence


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