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  #1  
Unread 02-13-2022, 02:19 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Béguinage, II

Béguinage, II
by Rainer Maria Rilke

But what do the church window’s thousand panes
reflect into the courtyard space within,
where semblances and silence and reflection
mingle, absorb, exaggerate, and darken,
aging fantastically like vintage wines.

There—nobody can fathom from which side—
the outer lies on the inner, what is timeless
on what is passing, vastness upon vastness,
becoming blind, dark, idle, made of lead.

There stays, beneath the varying décor
of the summer day, the gray of aged winter:
as if a man, long-suffering and tender,
stood long, unmoving, waiting in the rear,
and a woman—waiting, weeping—stood before.


Revisions:
S1L5 "like vintage wines" was "like an old wine"
S2L1 dashes substituted for commas
S3L1-3 was "There, under the summer day’s diverse décor, / the gray of aged winter still remains: / as if a patient, tender-hearted man"


II

Was aber spiegelt mit den tausend Scheiben
das Kirchenfenster in den Hof hinein,
darin sich Schweigen, Schein und Widerschein
vermischen, trinken, trüben, übertreiben,
phantastisch alternd wie ein alter Wein.

Dort legt sich, keiner weiß von welcher Seite,
Außen auf Inneres und Ewigkeit
auf Immer-Hingehn, Weite über Weite,
erblindend, finster, unbenutzt, verbleit.

Dort bleibt, unter dem schwankenden Dekor
des Sommertags, das Graue alter Winter:
als stünde regungslos ein sanftgesinnter
langmütig lange Wartender dahinter
und eine weinend Wartende davor.



Literal translation:

II.

But what does the church window
with its thousand panes reflect into the courtyard within,
in which silence, appearance, and reflection
mingle, drink, grow murky, exaggerate,
aging fantastically like an old wine.

There lie down, no one can tell from which side,
outer on inner and eternal
on ever-departing, vastness upon vastness,
becoming blind, dark, unused, leaden.

There remains, under the varying décor
of the summer day, the gray of old winter:
as if there stood motionless a gentle-minded,
long-suffering, long-waiting man behind
and a weeping, waiting woman in front.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 02-22-2022 at 08:02 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 02-19-2022, 02:59 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Hi, Susan!

I like the layered dualities here: inner and outer, real and reflected, ephemeral and eternal, male and female, front and rear, peace and emotional turmoil, etc.

I wondered if moving the words around in L1 might result in a smoother intro, but after hitting on several laughably bad options, I'm content with your double iamb here:

     But what do the church window’s thousand panes

A few punctuational suggestions:

Rilke doesn't use a question mark, but I really think it would be helpful to have one at the end of that first strophe.

I also think that em dashes to break up the components of the second strophe would help those layered parallels to look more...um...parallel before they merge into "vastness upon vastness." What about this?

     There—nobody can fathom from which side—
     the outer lies on the inner, what is timeless
     on what is passing, vastness upon vastness,
     becoming blind, dark, idle, made of lead.
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  #3  
Unread 02-19-2022, 10:23 PM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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What do indeed these hundreds of fragmented
panes shine in the Cathedral's inner court,
where presence, luminescence, and accord
get mingled, savored, tinged, over-presented,
fantastically aged like tawny port?

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-20-2022 at 01:46 AM.
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  #4  
Unread 02-20-2022, 06:52 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, I have taken your suggestion about the dashes, but when Rilke writes such long sentences, endlessly elaborated, as in S1, I think it is better to leave off the question mark at the end, as he does. The sentence starts with a question implied, but turns into commentary along the way.

Alexander, rewriting someone's lines (without comment) is not particularly helpful. Explaining what you think your version does better might be more useful. I take it that you object to slant rhymes, though you use one yourself. I am trying to stick very close to the meaning of the original, which your version strays further from. My priorities are not going to change just because yours are different.

Susan
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  #5  
Unread 02-20-2022, 04:12 PM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Hi Susan, sorry - I thought my point was self-explanatory, but let me spell it out.

Yes, I criticize your (and not only your) approach, and I don't really expect that you change it, but in principle I don't see why you couldn't.

You translate the original as if it were written in prose, in which case it would not be unreasonable to assume that the author chose the words which best fit the intended meaning. However, Rilke writes in verse, putting on himself very tight constraints of meter and rhyme. This doesn't mean that the words' meaning is random, but the reader should be ready to interpret them not in the most common, but in their peripheral sense. It might be even reasonable to assume that some words are not selected by the author, but self-select themselves, even if against the authors will, based on their sound. (Brodsky elaborates on this in his Nobel lecture and elsewhere.) This is even before taking into account the impressionistic nature of Rilke's writing (which could add another layer of blurriness).

The meaning in this particular 5-line stanza seems blurry indeed. E.g. I don't even understand - neither from your literal not from your ultimate translation - whether the 3 nouns of L3 are attributes of light emanating from the window, or of the courtyard (you'd say "both", but I suspect that the issue could be decided by grammar). Likewise, the verbs of L4-L5 - mix, drink, tarnish, exaggerate, age - taken together don't describe in any literal sense how the 3 attributes of L3 behave, whatever their interpretation. What is clear though is that Rilke builds a metaphor where the 3 attributes behave (in a vague sense) the way aging wine behaves (in a more direct sense).

Let's see now how the nouns in L3 and the verbs in L4 are selected.

L3: Schweigen, Schein und Widerschein

It contains a triple alliteration sch, and the inner rhyme "Shein-Widershein" which also half-rhymes with "Schweigen" because of the same accented vowel. In their meaning, "appearance" and "reflection" don't really go together, but do so in sound. Were Rilke writing in English, could he choose my "presence" (as a characteristic of appearance of a court surrounded by tall stone walls) and "luminescence" (as a characteristic of light)? I suspect he might go further: "essence - effervescence" (which in their emotional aspects can, vaguely, characterize light from a stained glass in a courtyard, but can much more literally characterize wine).

L4: trinken, trüben, übertreiben

The verbs make little sense together, but "trinken - truben - treiben" make a (slant) triple rhyme, and "truben - uber" add another.
(So, my attempt is actually rather weak comparing to what Rilke was doing here.)

Thus, in this stanza, Rilke shares with the reader his vague emotional experience (from observing light in the courtyard), whose intellectual significance seems rather modest, but the poetic (to say "phonetic") form quite spectacular. Note that the specific rhyming scheme AbbAb (where capital A stands for feminine and lowercase b for masculine rhyme) is also a part of this form; altering it would be equivalent to singing the same lyrics to another tune (which is not prohibited, but needs to be motivated). Note, however, one more feature (which is poorly represented in my attempted translation): all the five lines half-rhyme to each other. Namely, their last accented vowel sound is the same

Scheiben - hinein - Widerschein - übertreiben - Wein

By the way, in the next stanza all the 4 lines rhyme with each other and half-rhyme with this "ei"

So, I do think that translations discarding all structural and acoustic qualities simply miss 95% of what made the original poetry. In any case, the result doesn't sound resembling the original in any sense.

P.S. Speaking of slant rhymes: No, I don't mind them (at least when my ear discerns them). However, I don't view "court - accord - port" as actually slant, because "t" and "d" (similarly to "p" and "b", or "s" and "z") are parallel sounds, one 'dim' the other 'bright'. But you are right that the classical English rhyming tradition does not recognize this.

On the other hand, I didn't even suspect until you mentioned it that there are any rhymes in your translation. Are you referring to "panes - wine"? Is it supposed to offer any consolation to my ear?

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-20-2022 at 04:50 PM.
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  #6  
Unread 02-20-2022, 10:28 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Alexander, translation of poetry is never perfect, but different approaches have different pros and cons. You choose to privilege the sound patterns over the meaning. I find that your version does not make much sense or sound like normal English. I choose to try to convey what I think Rilke is saying, in language as clear and natural sounding as I can make it, while also writing in meter and with slant rhymes. Though people can find things to like in either approach, I think that most non-German-speaking readers appreciate Rilke best when they can understand what he is saying (and that is quite challenging, given his indirect, metaphorical language). My version tries to suggest some of the rhythms and rhyme patterns that Rilke uses, but it cannot begin to replicate his intricate patterns of assonance and alliteration or the overall sonic effects of the original. If you want to help me, you need to recognize what I am trying to do and then suggest ways that I can do that better. To suggest that I take a totally different approach is unlikely to convince me.

Susan
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  #7  
Unread 02-21-2022, 03:16 AM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Susan, I don't read German (so I am your potential client). To learn what Rilke says I use Google-translate. In this case, the result doesn't make much sense, but judging by your versions, the original is equally foggy. Yet I've heard that Rilke is arguably the number one European poet of the 20th century, and from your translation I hope to see why. Apparently it is not because of what he said but how. I suspect, it is because he demonstrated spectacular mastery in the art of stringing German words into sonorous sentences abiding by tight constraints of meter and rhyme. It is not "my preference"- it was what he considered poetry. Your approach doesn't allow me to find out why Rilke is a great poet.

Please don't use the poor quality (as you say) of my attempt as your excuse: I am sure you can do much better than me. But you are somehow resigning to the (yes, difficult) task of translating Rilke's poetry even before you have even tried.
(And don't tell me that it is impossible: there exist a dozen of English translations of "Eugene Onegin" with precise adherence to the meter and rhyme pattern of the original - which consists of about 400 sonnets.)

In principle the task is not harder than it was for Rilke. Roughly speaking, he decided, more or less, what he wanted to say and chose a strict form for saying it. Why is that he could fit what he wanted to say into the form he chose, and you say you cannot? Yes, he had the freedom to adjust the form on the flight (e.g. decide which lines have masculine and which feminine rhymes) - and you can do this too. (In my attempt I didn't, but if Rilke has some variability in this regard, then a translator should be allowed to do this too.) Yes, he could decide on the flight how to distribute his thoughts between the lines - and you can do this too, the translation doesn't need to be "line by line". Note that the inner rhymes and alliterations do not follow any pattern - these features are some "extras" showing how skillful Rilke was in the word choice that would make his poem "sonorous". So, there is no need to reproduce the same effects in the same places - but to elicit my (reader's) emotional response, there might be the need for filling the English version with some similar/parallel/equivalent phonetic effects.

I realize that I am trying to induce you into doing something that is harder than what you normally do, and of course, you don't have to agree with me. But I am afraid that doing anything less won't do justice to Rilke's art. So, as he said on another occasion: Du mußt dein Leben ändern. (And anyway, judging by the direction we all are going, "cultural appropriation" will soon be considered a felony :-)

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-21-2022 at 12:36 PM.
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  #8  
Unread 02-21-2022, 08:22 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Alexander, I am not saying that translating Rilke while maintaining his rhyme schemes and true rhymes is not possible. Both Len Krisak and Joseph Cadora have done so recently. If you want to see the effect of that, read them. I have deliberately chosen not to do that, and no matter how much you belittle that choice, I have no intention of changing it. Give it up. If you have no specific suggestions for how to improve my translation while honoring my choice, I suggest that you comment on other poems and translations that you can help.

Susan
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  #9  
Unread 02-21-2022, 11:27 AM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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OK, "your wish is my command". So, let me point out at some potential points for improvement of your translation within your own paradigm.

- "space within" can be removed without changing the meaning, and therefore feels added as a filler only

- "mingle, absorb, exaggerate, and darken": note that "mingle" and "darken" (intransitive) is what happens to "silence, appearance, and reflection" themselves (they mix with each other and become darker) while "absorb" and "exaggerate" (transitive) is what they do to something else.
So, the parallelism present (as far as I can tell without knowing German) in the original is lost.
(I thought they were "drunk"="absorbed" rather than "drink"="absorb" something else.)

Besides (again, with the reservation that my Google-translate might have misread the original),
I thought that the wine metaphor is not just limited to the clause "[all of the above is] aging like an old wine", but the verbs of L4 are part of the metaphor, i.e. silence, appearance, and reflection, like an old wine, get "mingled, absorbed, exaggerated, darken".

P.S. I am familiar with Cadora's book (which was quite dissatisfying), but thanks for the reference to Krisak: I'll check it out.

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-21-2022 at 12:38 PM.
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  #10  
Unread 02-21-2022, 11:38 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Dear Susan

It’s good to see your Rilke project continuing. His technical prowess is amazing in many of the ways Alexander describes, but I think Rilke’s verse, even to German readers, is often more strange than those who have no German might suppose. Having said that, I think the compromise you make in favour of intelligibility and your employment of half-rhyme to enable you to achieve this are both sound: they make possible a poem that works in English and reflects, imperfectly though it must always be, the effect of the original.

J. B. Leishman, in his versions, retains with remarkable persistence the rhyme-schemes of the originals, even down to the mix of masculine and feminine rhymes, which is such a feature of Rilke’s style. The result is not always a happy one, however. In his translation of this very poem he introduces what seem to me the neologisms “all-indicating” and “awaiteress”. To my ear, these strike a Hardyesque note and one not in keeping with what I take from the German. In any case, I have often wondered if the wish for close formal fidelity was perhaps based on a fallacy. With regard to rhyme, it assumes, for a start, that, as between any two languages, rhyme, considered within its local linguistic, literary and cultural contexts, has an equivalent aesthetic valency in both. This seems at the least open to argument.

My only immediate observation about your version is regret that you cannot find a way – nor for the moment can I – of avoiding the attempted half-rhyme of “remains” and “man”.

Good luck with this!

Clive
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