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Unread 04-13-2022, 01:21 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
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Default Rilke, Alcestis

Alcestis
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Then suddenly the messenger was among them,
tossed into the bubbling wedding feast
like a new ingredient. They noticed nothing,
the drinkers, of the god’s clandestine entrance,
which held his deity as close to him
as a wet mantle, and he seemed to them
like any one of them as he passed through.
But suddenly, in the midst of speaking, one
of the guests saw the young master of the house
at the table’s head, as though he’d been jerked upward,
no longer lying down, and—everywhere,
with his whole being—mirroring a strangeness
that spoke to him in terrifying ways.
Right afterwards, as though the mixture cleared,
was silence, only with a settling dregs
of muddy noise and a precipitate
of falling babble, smelling spoiled already
after the muffled, circumvented laughter.
And as they recognized the slender god,
and how he stood there, filled inside with mission
and merciless—they almost knew it then.
And yet, when it was said, it was beyond
all knowing, quite impossible to grasp.
Admetus must die. And when? Within this hour.

But shattering the hard shell of his horror
to pieces, he stretched out his hands from it
to try to strike a bargain with the god.
For years, for only one year more of youth,
for months, for weeks, for just a couple of days,
ah, not for days, for nights, for only one,
for one night, for this night alone: for it.
The god refused, and then he screamed aloud
and screamed it out, held nothing back, and screamed
the way his mother screamed while giving birth.

And she went over to him, an old woman,
and there his father came, too, his old father,
and both stood—old, outdated, at a loss—
by him who screamed, who looked at them abruptly,
as never before so closely, stopped, gulped, said:
Father,
are you concerned so much about these remnants,
these dregs that hinder you from swallowing?
Go pour them out. And you, you aged woman,
matron,
why are you still here? You’ve given birth.
And he held both like sacrificial offerings
in one grip. All at once, he let them go
and shoved the old away, inspired, eyes shining,
catching his breath and calling: Creon, Creon!
And nothing else, and nothing but that name.
But in his features was that other thing
he didn’t say, unspeakably expectant
as, glowing, to his young friend, his beloved,
he held it out across the baffled table.
Look: the old (it said) are not a ransom;
they’re used up, going bad, and almost worthless,
but you, you, in the fullness of your beauty—

But at that point he saw his friend no longer.
He stayed back, and the one who came was her,
a little smaller, almost, than he knew her,
and slight and sad in the pale wedding gown.
The others all are just her passageway,
through which she comes and comes—(soon she’ll be there
within his arms, which open achingly).

But as he waits, she speaks, and not to him.
She speaks just to the god, and the god hears her;
and all hear, as it were, just in the god:

No one can be his substitute. It’s me.
I am the substitute. For no one’s as
ended as I am. What remains for me
of what I was here? That is why I'm dying.
Did she not tell you, when she sent you off,
that that same bed that’s waiting there inside
belongs to the underworld? I’ve said farewell, yes.
Farewell upon farewell.
No dying person said it more. I’ve gone, yes,
so that all this, buried beneath the man
who’s now my husband, melts, dissolves away—.
So lead me off. I’m dying, yes, for him.

And like the wind on the high sea, which veers round,
the god strode almost as though to one of the dead,
and suddenly was far off from her husband,
to whom, concealed within a little signal,
he threw the hundred lifetimes of this earth.
He fell down, staggering toward the two, and grabbed
for them as in a dream. They were already
going toward the entrance, where the women
crowded, weeping. But for one last time
he saw the maiden’s face still, which was turning
with a smile, and shining with a hope
that almost was a promise: to return,
fully adult, out of the depths of death,
to him, the living one—

At once he flung
his hands before his face, as he knelt there,
so as to see no more, after that smile.


Revisions:
S1L11-12 added the dashes
S2L8 "screamed" was "cried"
S2L9 "screamed" was "howled"
S3L21 was "The old (who stand there), look, they are no ransom;"


Alkestis

Da plötzlich war der Bote unter ihnen,
hineingeworfen in das Überkochen
des Hochzeitsmahles wie ein neuer Zusatz.
Sie fühlten nicht, die Trinkenden, des Gottes
heimlichen Eintritt, welcher seine Gottheit
so an sich hielt wie einen nassen Mantel
und ihrer einer schien, der oder jener,
wie er so durchging. Aber plötzlich sah
mitten im Sprechen einer von den Gästen
den jungen Hausherrn oben an dem Tische
wie in die Höh gerissen, nicht mehr liegend,
und überall und mit dem ganzen Wesen
ein Fremdes spiegelnd, das ihn furchtbar ansprach.
Und gleich darauf, als klärte sich die Mischung,
war Stille; nur mit einem Satz am Boden
von trübem Lärm und einem Niederschlag
fallenden Lallens, schon verdorben riechend
nach dumpfem umgestandenen Gelächter.
Und da erkannten sie den schlanken Gott,
und wie er dastand, innerlich voll Sendung
und unerbittlich, - wussten sie es beinah.
Und doch, als es gesagt war, war es mehr
als alles Wissen, gar nicht zu begreifen.
Admet muss sterben. Wann? In dieser Stunde.

Der aber brach die Schale seines Schreckens
in Stücken ab und streckte seine Hände
heraus aus ihr, um mit dem Gott zu handeln.
Um Jahre, um ein einzig Jahr noch Jugend,
um Monate, um Wochen, um paar Tage,
ach, Tage nicht, um Nächte, nur um Eine,
um Eine Nacht, um diese nur: um die.
Der Gott verneinte, und da schrie er auf
und schrie's hinaus und hielt es nicht und schrie
wie seine Mutter aufschrie beim Gebären.

Und die trat zu ihm, eine alte Frau,
und auch der Vater kam, der alte Vater,
und beide standen, alt, veraltet, ratlos,
beim Schreienden, der plötzlich, wie noch nie
so nah, sie ansah, abbrach, schluckte, sagte:
Vater,
liegt dir denn viel daran an diesem Rest,
an diesem Satz, der dich beim Schlingen hindert?
Geh, gieß ihn weg. Und du, du alte Frau,
Matrone,
was tust du denn noch hier: du hast geboren.
Und beide hielt er sie wie opfertiere
in Einem Griff. Auf einmal ließ er los
und stieß die Alten fort, voll Einfall, strahlend
und atemholend, rufend: Kreon, Kreon!
Und nichts als das; und nichts als diesen Namen.
Aber in seinem Antlitz stand das Andere,
das er nicht sagte, namenlos erwartend,
wie ers dem jungen Freunde, dem Geliebten,
erglühend hinhielt übern wirren Tisch.
Die Alten (stand da), siehst du, sind kein Loskauf,
sie sind verbraucht und schlecht und beinah wertlos,
du aber, du, in deiner ganzen Schönheit -

Da aber sah er seinen Freund nicht mehr.
Er blieb zurück, und das, was kam, war sie,
ein wenig kleiner fast als er sie kannte
und leicht und traurig in dem bleichen Brautkleid.
Die andern alle sind nur ihre Gasse,
durch die sie kommt und kommt -: (gleich wird sie da sein
in seinen Armen, die sich schmerzhaft auftun).

Doch wie er wartet, spricht sie; nicht zu ihm.
Sie spricht zum Gotte, und der Gott vernimmt sie,
und alle hörens gleichsam erst im Gotte:

Ersatz kann keiner für ihn sein. Ich bins.
Ich bin Ersatz. Denn keiner ist zu Ende
wie ich es bin. Was bleibt mir denn von dem
was ich hier war? Das ists ja, dass ich sterbe.
Hat sie dirs nicht gesagt, da sie dirs auftrug,
dass jenes Lager, das da drinnen wartet,
zur Unterwelt gehört? Ich nahm ja Abschied.
Abschied über Abschied.
Kein Sterbender nimmt mehr davon. Ich ging ja,
damit das Alles, unter Dem begraben
der jetzt mein Gatte ist, zergeht, sich auflöst -.
So führ mich hin: ich sterbe ja für ihn.

Und wie der Wind auf hoher See, der umspringt,
so trat der Gott fast wie zu einer Toten
und war auf einmal weit von ihrem Gatten,
dem er, versteckt in einem kleinen Zeichen,
die hundert Leben dieser Erde zuwarf.
Der stürzte taumelnd zu den beiden hin
und griff nach ihnen wie im Traum. Sie gingen
schon auf den Eingang zu, in dem die Frauen
verweint sich drängten. Aber einmal sah
er noch des Mädchens Antlitz, das sich wandte
mit einem Lächeln, hell wie eine Hoffnung,
die beinah ein Versprechen war: erwachsen
zurückzukommen aus dem tiefen Tode
zu ihm, dem Lebenden -

Da schlug er jäh
die Hände vors Gesicht, wie er so kniete,
um nichts zu sehen mehr nach diesem Lächeln.


Literal translation:
Alcestis

Then suddenly the messenger was among them,
thrown into the bubbling-over
of the wedding feast like a new ingredient.
They did not sense, the drinkers, the god’s
secret entry, which his deity
held as close to him as a wet mantle,
and he seemed one of them, this one or that,
as he passed through. But suddenly
one of the guests, in the midst of speaking, saw
the young master of the house at the head of the table,
as if yanked on high, not lying down anymore,
and everywhere and with his whole being
reflecting a strangeness that spoke to him terrifyingly.
And right after that, as if the mixture cleared,
was silence, only with a settling dregs
of muddy noise, and a precipitate
of falling babble, already smelling bad
after the muffled, circumvented laughter.
And as they recognized the slender god
and how he stood there, inwardly full of mission
and merciless—they almost knew it.
And yet, when it was said, it was beyond
all knowing, not to be understood at all.
Admetus must die. When? Within this hour.

But he broke the shell of his horror
into pieces and stretched his hands
out of it, so as to bargain with the god.
For years, for a single year more of youth,
for months, for weeks, for a couple of days,
ah, not days, for nights, for just one,
for one night, for only this: for it.
The god refused, and then he screamed aloud
and screamed it out, and held nothing back, and screamed
as his mother screamed while giving birth.

And she went to him, an old woman,
and also his father came, his old father,
and both stood—old, outdated, helpless—
beside the screamer, who suddenly, as if never
before so closely, saw them, broke off, swallowed, said:
Father,
do you care so much about these remnants,
about these dregs, which hinder you from swallowing?
Go pour them away. And you, you old woman,
matron,
what are you doing here still: you have given birth.
And he held both of them like sacrificial animals
in one grip. All at once he let them go
and pushed the old ones away, full of an idea, beaming
and catching a breath, calling: Creon, Creon!
And nothing but that, and nothing but that name.
But in his face stood that other thing,
that he didn’t say, unspeakably expectant,
as he to his young friend, his beloved,
glowingly held it out across the bewildered table.
The old (it said), you see, are no ransom;
they are used up and going bad and nearly worthless,
but you, you, in all your loveliness—

But then he saw his friend no longer.
He stayed back, and the one who came was her,
a little smaller, almost, than he knew her
and slight and sad in the pale wedding gown.
All of the others are only her pathway,
down which she comes and comes—(soon she will be there
in his arms, which open painfully).

But as he waits, she speaks, not to him.
She speaks to the god, and the god hears her,
and everyone hears, as it were, only in the god:

There can be no substitute for him. It’s me.
I am the substitute. Because no one is at an end
the way I am. What remains for me of
what I was here? That is why I am dying.
Did she not say to you, when she gave you instructions,
that that bed, that is waiting there inside,
belongs to the underworld? I’ve said farewell, yes.
Farewell upon farewell.
No dying person said it more. I’ve gone, yes,
so that all that, buried beneath the man
who’s now my husband, melts, dissolves—.
So lead me away. I’m dying, yes, for him.

And like the wind on the high sea, which veers around,
so strode the god almost as if to one of the dead
and was suddenly far from her husband,
to whom, hidden in a little signal,
he threw the hundred lifetimes of this earth.
He fell, staggering toward the two,
and grabbed for them as in a dream. They were going
already toward the entrance, in which the women
crowded, weeping. But one last time
he saw the girl’s face still, which turned
with a smile, bright as a hope
which was almost a promise: grown up,
to return from the depths of death
to him, the living one—

Then he abruptly flung
his hands before his face, as he kneeled there,
so as to see nothing more, after that smile.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 04-13-2022 at 11:06 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-13-2022, 03:01 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: TX
Posts: 6,630
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Hi Susan,

This was tough to read on the page - it's too long for easy comparison.
So: after everywhere, maybe dashes, to better link it with the verb it modifies? The German is clearer. Schrie I'd keep a single verb for, and (stand da) is singular and cannot refer to the parents. I take it to be the speaker. That's basically it.
Abschied uber Abschied is such a great line.
All I've done is compare the German, and you are as usual almost unerring, to my eye. Ausgezeichnet!

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 04-13-2022, 04:17 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Iowa City, IA, USA
Posts: 9,569
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John, thanks for taking the time to look over this very long poem. I have taken your suggestions, which cleared up for me a few spots in which I was confused. I think you are right that it is generally a good idea to use the same word in the translation when a word is repeated several times in the original, instead of finding variants to make it sound less repetitive.

Susan
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