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  #1  
Unread 02-24-2022, 03:34 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, Tombs of the Hetaerae

Tombs of the Hetaerae
by Rainer Maria Rilke

They lie in their long hair, their faces brown,
having departed deep into themselves.
Eyes closed as if before too vast a distance.
Skeletons, mouths, flowers. In their mouths
the polished teeth, like pocket chess game pieces
crafted of ivory, laid out in rows.
And flowers, yellowed pearls, and slender bones,
hands and tunics, fading, shriveled fabrics
over the caved-in hearts. However, there
beneath those rings and talismans and stones
as blue as eyes (cherished remembrances)
still stands the silent grave-crypt of the sex,
filled to its vaulted roof with flower petals.
And, once more, yellowed pearls, rolled far apart—
cups of terra cotta, whose curved front
their portrait had adorned, shattered green shards
of ointment vases with a smell like flowers,
and shapes of little gods: from household altars,
hetaerae-heavens with delighted gods.
Broken belts, flat scarab stones, and small
figurines with giant phalluses,
a laughing mouth and dancing girls and runners,
golden fibulae like little bows
for hunting beasts—and bird-shaped amulets,
long needles, decorated household objects,
and a round shard of red background, on which,
like an obscure inscription on an entrance,
appear the straining legs of a four-horse team.
And once more, flowers, pearls that have rolled loose,
the brightly shining loins of a little lyre,
and in between the veils that fall like mists,
as if it crept from the pupa of the shoe,
the ankle’s insubstantial butterfly.

So they lie—filled to the brim with things,
precious things, gems, playthings, household goods,
shattered trinkets (all that was dropped inside them)—
and darken like the bottom of a river.

And riverbeds they were,
over whom in rapid, fleeting waves
(which wanted to press on to the next life)
the bodies of so many young men fell,
in whom the torrents of the grown men roared.
And sometimes boys emerged from the peaks of childhood,
descended down in tentative cascades,
and played around with the things upon the streambed
until the sloping incline seized their senses:

then they filled up with clear and shallow water
the whole expanse of this expansive channel,
and swirled with eddies in the deeper places,
and for the first time, mirrored riverbanks
and far-off calls of birds—while, high above,
the starry nights of a delightful country
grew into heavens that never closed at all.


Revisions:
S2L2 was "precious objects, gemstones, playthings, housewares,"
S3L8 was "and played around with objects on the streambed"


Hetären-Gräber

In ihren langen Haaren liegen sie
mit braunen, tief in sich gegangenen Gesichtern.
Die Augen zu wie vor zu vieler Ferne.
Skelette, Munde, Blumen. In den Munden
die glatten Zähne wie ein Reise-Schachspiel
aus Elfenbein in Reihen aufgestellt.
Und Blumen, gelbe Perlen, schlanke Knochen,
Hände und Hemden, welkende Gewebe
über dem eingestürzten Herzen. Aber
dort unter jenen Ringen, Talismanen
und augenblauen Steinen (Lieblings-Angedenken)
steht noch die stille Krypta des Geschlechtes,
bis an die Wölbung voll mit Blumenblättern.
Und wieder gelbe Perlen, weitverrollte, -
Schalen gebrannten Tones, deren Bug
ihr eignes Bild geziert hat, grüne Scherben
von Salben-Vasen, die wie Blumen duften,
und Formen kleiner Götter: Hausaltäre,
Hetärenhimmel mit entzückten Göttern.
Gesprengte Gürtel, flache Skarabäen,
kleine Figuren riesigen Geschlechtes,
ein Mund der lacht und Tanzende und Läufer,
goldene Fibeln, kleinen Bogen ähnlich
zur Jagd auf Tier- und Vogelamulette,
und lange Nadeln, zieres Hausgeräte
und eine runde Scherbe roten Grundes,
darauf, wie eines Eingangs schwarze Aufschrift,
die straffen Beine eines Viergespannes.
Und wieder Blumen, Perlen, die verrollt sind,
die hellen Lenden einer kleinen Leier,
und zwischen Schleiern, die gleich Nebeln fallen,
wie ausgekrochen aus des Schuhes Puppe:
des Fußgelenkes leichter Schmetterling.

So liegen sie mit Dingen angefüllt,
kostbaren Dingen, Steinen, Spielzeug, Hausrat,
zerschlagnem Tand (was alles in sie abfiel),
und dunkeln wie der Grund von einem Fluss.

Flussbetten waren sie,
darüber hin in kurzen schnellen Wellen
(die weiter wollten zu dem nächsten Leben)
die Leiber vieler Jünglinge sich stürzten
und in denen der Männer Strüme rauschten.
Und manchmal brachen Knaben aus den Bergen
der Kindheit, kamen zagen Falles nieder
und spielten mit den Dingen auf dem Grunde,
bis das Gefälle ihr Gefühl ergriff:

Dann füllten sie mit flachem klaren Wasser
die ganze Breite dieses breiten Weges
und trieben Wirbel an den tiefen Stellen;
und spiegelten zum ersten Mal die Ufer
und ferne Vogelrufe -, während hoch
die Sternennächte eines süßen Landes
in Himmel wuchsen, die sich nirgends schlossen.


Literal translation:
Tombs of Hetaerae

In their long hair they lie
with brown faces, having gone deep within themselves.
Their eyes shut, as if before too great distances.
Skeletons, mouths, flower. In their mouths
the smooth teeth, like a travel chess set
of ivory set out in rows.
And flowers, yellow pearls, slender bones,
hands and tunics, withering fabric
above the caved-in hearts. But
there beneath those rings, talismans,
and eye-blue stones (beloved mementoes)
still stands the silent crypt of the sex,
filled up to the arch with flower petals.
And again yellow pearls, rolled far apart—
cups of terra cotta, whose curve
their own portrait adorned, green fragments
of ointment vases, which smelled like flowers,
and shapes of little gods: household altars,
hetaerae-heavens with delighted gods.
Broken belts, flat scarabs,
small figures with giant sexes,
a laughing mouth and dancers and runners,
golden fibulas like small bows
for hunting for animals—and bird-shaped amulets,
and long needles, decorated housewares,
and a round fragment of red background,
on which, like an entrance’s dark inscription,
the straining legs of a four-horse team.
And again flowers, pearls that have rolled loose,
the bright loins of a small lyre,
and between veils that fall like mists,
as if crept out of a shoe’s chrysalis,
the ankle’s delicate butterfly.

So they lie, filled up with things,
precious things, stones, playthings, household goods,
broken trinkets (all that was dropped into them),
and darkening like the bottom of a river.

Riverbeds they were,
over whom in brief, rapid waves
(that wanted to go on to the next life)
the bodies of many young men plunged,
and in whom the torrents of grown men roared.
And sometimes boys burst from the mountains
of childhood, descended in timid cascades,
and played with the objects on the streambed
until the slope’s incline seized their senses:

Then they filled with shallow, clear water
the whole breadth of this broad way,
and drove eddies into the deep places,
and for the first time mirrored the riverbanks
and distant birdcalls—while high above
the starry nights of a sweet country
grew into heavens, which never closed.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 02-26-2022 at 07:48 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 02-25-2022, 10:32 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Beautiful.

I think the repetition of "things" is important in this bit, since the poem places such emphasis on materiality:

     So liegen sie mit Dingen angefüllt,
     kostbaren Dingen, Steinen, Spielzeug, Hausrat,

Your crib has:

     So they lie, filled up with things,
     precious things, stones, playthings, household goods,

Your verse translation has:

     So they lie—filled to the brim with things,
     precious objects, gemstones, playthings, housewares,

Changing the order might help to emphasize the thing-ness without having "things" so many times:

     So they lie—filled to the brim with things,
     playthings, precious objects, gemstones, housewares,
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  #3  
Unread 02-26-2022, 07:53 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Thanks, Julie. Your pointing out the places where I used "objects" in place of "things" made me realize that it might be better to use "things" each time. Rilke called this collection his "thing poems," so it is a crucial term for him, and there is a strong emphasis on things in this poem in particular, in which the hetaerae have become things themselves. They were always playthings for the men when they were alive.

Susan
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Unread 02-26-2022, 09:08 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Happy to have been helpful.

One of my strongest impressions of this poem is that the inherent thing-ness of the hetaerae themselves is the only reason any residue of them remains to this day; in contrast, the boys and men were forces of nature that have now completely passed on, except for the broken, disarrayed objects that they (as well as time) left in their wake. Most of this precious junk was probably either given or funded by them. And I think Rilke intends a hint of domestic violence in there with the repetition of unstrung pearls. Passions aren't exclusively romantic, of course.

I'm a little hesitant about the heavens that never closed "at all." I'm not sure what "at all" contributes.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 02-26-2022 at 09:15 AM.
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Unread 02-27-2022, 06:53 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, I am doubtful that Rilke intended to suggest domestic violence with the unstrung pearls. I suspect that the pearls were put into the grave fully strung, but that the string decayed and the pearls rolled loose. I see the pearls as an image for the hetaerae themselves, now just bones. I suspect that the hetaerae died young, probably from reasons associated with their job, but most people died young back then, so it is hard to tell. In the last line, "nirgends" can be translated as "never" but also as "nowhere." I added the "at all" partly to fill out the line metrically, but also as an intensifier. My reading is that the hetaerae themselves were a kind of heaven open all the time to the men, but we heard earlier that they have their own vision of heaven, and perhaps the line suggests that the heavens are open even to the hetaerae.

Susan
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