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  #1  
Unread 11-21-2021, 08:47 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Default Rilke, Comforting of Elijah

Comforting of Elijah
by Rainer Maria Rilke

He had done this and that thing to restore
the covenant, like that ruined altar where
his far-extended trust returned when fire
came plunging down on it from far away,
and hadn’t he cut hundreds down then, all
because their mouths gave off the stench of Baal,
slaughtering by the brook till evening's gray,

which blended seamlessly with the gray rain.
But when there came a herald from the queen,
who threatened him for that day’s actions, then
he ran for a long while, like one insane,

into the country till in scrubby broom,
like one abandoned, he burst out in cries
that bellowed in the wasteland: God, don’t use
me anymore. I’m cut in two.

And yet at once the burning angel came
with food for him, of which he then partook
so deeply that he walked for a long time
by streams and pastures, always toward the peaks,

to which the Lord came only for his sake:
not in the storm and not in the great crack
that split Earth open, through whose heavy rifts
a fiery hollow ran, almost as if
in shame that the Ineffable should speed,
well-rested, to the newly come old man,
who, muffled up and frightened, heard him in
the gentle pounding of his blood.


Revisions:
S1L1 was "He had done this and that to build once more"
S1L2 was "the covenant, just like that altar where"
S1L3 "returned" was "came back"
S1L7 "evening's gray" was "dusk turned gray"
S2L2 "herald" was "runner"
S2L3-4 was "day’s work, he ran / and ran"
S3L3 "burst" was "broke"
S3L4 "cut" was "torn"
S5L2 was "not in the storm, nor in the massive quake"
S5L5 "should speed" was "rushed down"
S5L6 "newly come" was "just-arrived" and "to" was "toward"
S5L7-8 was "who, scared and covering his face up, heard / him in the gentle pounding of his blood."



Tröstung des Elia

Er hatte das getan und dies, den Bund
wie jenen Altar wieder aufzubauen,
zu dem sein weitgeschleudertes Vertrauen
zurück als Feuer fiel von ferne, und
hatte er dann nicht Hunderte zerhauen,
weil sie ihm stanken mit dem Baal im Mund,
am Bache schlachtend bis ans Abendgrauen,

das mit dem Regengrau sich groß verband.
Doch als ihn von der Königin der Bote
nach solchem Werktag antrat und bedrohte,
da lief er wie ein Irrer in das Land,

so lange bis er unterm Ginsterstrauche
wie weggeworfen aufbrach in Geschrei
das in der Wüste brüllte: Gott, gebrauche
mich länger nicht. Ich bin entzwei.

Doch grade da kam ihn der Engel ätzen
mit einer Speise, die er tief empfing,
so dass er lange dann an Weideplätzen
und Wassern immer zum Gebirge ging,

zu dem der Herr um seinetwillen kam:
Im Sturme nicht und nicht im Sich-Zerspalten
der Erde, der entlang in schweren Falten
ein leeres Feuer ging, fast wie aus Scham
über des Ungeheuren ausgeruhtes
Hinstürzen zu dem angekommnen Alten,
der ihn im sanften Sausen seines Blutes
erschreckt und zugedeckt vernahm.


Literal translation:
Consoling of Elijah

He had done this and that to build again
the covenant, like that altar,
to which his far-flung trust
came back when the fire fell from afar, and
had he not, then, cut hundreds down
because they stank to him with Baal in their mouths,
slaughtering by the brook into evening’s gray,

which united with the gray rain.
But when the messenger of the queen,
after such a day’s work, came to him and threatened,
then he ran like a madman into the country

for a long time until, among broom bushes,
like one thrown away, he burst into cries
that roared in the wasteland: God, use
me no longer. I am cut in two.

But just then came to him the burning angel
with a meal, which he took in deeply,
so that he for a long time then by pastures
and streams walked always toward the mountains,

to which the Lord came for his sake:
not in the storm and not in the splitting-open
of the earth, along which in heavy folds
a hollow fire ran, almost as if in shame
at the way the Tremendous, well-rested,
rushed down to the just-arrived old man,
who in the soft rushing of his blood,
frightened and covered up, heard him.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 11-25-2021 at 01:59 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 11-23-2021, 02:42 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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As with many of Rikle's Old Testament tales, this poem is heavy on the plot summary, and not very insightful. There don't seem to be many poetic qualities in the original except the rhyming. Since the rhyming is toned down in the English, there's not much left to make this feel poem-like to me. But if you're doing them all, I guess you've gotta do this one, too.

Edited to add: "Torn in two" is more colloquial, but I think Rilke is trying to establish a parallel with the sort of sacrifice used in the original covenant with Abraham at Genesis 15:11, and presumably the sacrifice in the contest on Mt. Carmel that Elijah had just won, presumably also involving animals cut in two.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 11-23-2021 at 04:57 PM.
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  #3  
Unread 11-23-2021, 10:10 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Julie, I can't defend Rilke's Biblical poems. I think he is moved by the poetry or psychological drama of certain sections of the Bible and is just isolating certain moments that speak to him. Maybe they will speak to other readers, maybe not. I'm just trying to improve my version, if I can. I think you may have a point that he is not just trying to say that he is destroyed in S3L4, but that he has sacrificed himself to God, so I have changed "torn" to "cut."

Susan
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Unread 11-23-2021, 11:08 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Susan,

A few quick comments. In this line:

slaughtering by the brook till dusk turned gray

the dusk turning grey struck me as little odd, because the dusk is (or it seems to me) already grey. The original says, "until dusk", I think, and more literally "until the grey of evening". So, dusk and its grey arrive together, I think, rather than, as it is here, dusk is there first, then grey comes later. Not that I have great alternatives. Though maybe something like "till dusk brought grey" ...?

Also, I'm wondering if "runner" might be something else, maybe "herald"? I think because of the current near repetition of "runner" followed by "ran and ran". And maybe because "herald" sounds more Biblical.

Finally, "the just-arrived old man" sounds a little awkward to me, not sure what would better though. Maybe "newly-come", or maybe not.

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 11-23-2021 at 11:21 PM.
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  #5  
Unread 11-24-2021, 07:40 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Thanks for the suggestions, Matt. I have looked again at the spots you flagged and have made changes, as well as changing a few other spots.

Susan
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Unread 11-25-2021, 09:27 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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I can't quite get to grips with the last stanza. It seems to be set up for a "but" that isn't there. If He didn't come in the way you describe at the beginning, then how...? I sort of get it, but since He rushed anyway, why would the "fiery hollow" be ashamed? The original is (to me) just as confusing.
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Unread 11-25-2021, 10:49 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Ann, I had to read the relevant Biblical passage in order to understand this poem. Here is 1 Kings 19:9-13 (KJV).

9 And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?

10 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

I think that Rilke is saying that one might expect to hear God speak in whirlwinds and earthquakes and fires, but one doesn't expect a small voice inside one's head, barely distinguishable from one's own pulse. The earth itself seems to be ashamed that God would rush to meet one outcast old man. The earth is torn wide by the advent of God, but God does not speak through the earth, but directly to the man. At least, that is how I understand the poem.

Susan
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Unread 11-25-2021, 12:24 PM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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Oh. Thanks, Susan. I honestly didn't recognise the familiar story because it was too wrapped up in words that have killed it stone-dead (Rilke's fault entirely). Well, well - still, small voice, eh? "Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire..." Who'd a thunk?
.

Last edited by Ann Drysdale; 11-25-2021 at 12:27 PM.
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Unread 11-25-2021, 02:02 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is online now
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Ann, I don't know if my current changes have made the ending any clearer, but I wasn't happy with having a series of rhymed couplets in the last stanza, so I have at least managed to change that.

Susan
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Unread 11-27-2021, 12:16 PM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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A little - but it was your pointing me to King James that set me on the right track. Rilke is so wordy. I am not familiar with his work and have come to this forum to get a taste of him. I shall persevere.
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