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  #1  
Unread 09-12-2021, 08:47 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Default Rilke, The Prisoner, I

The Prisoner
by Rainer Maria Rilke

I.

My hand now has just one
gesture: it chases off;
upon the ancient stones,
the wetness falls from the cliff.

My ear hears just these drips,
and my heart is keeping time
with the passing of the drops
and wears away with them.

If only they dripped faster,
a creature might come again.
Somewhere it was brighter—.
But to us, nothing is known.


Revisions:
S1L2 was "gesture: to chase them off;"
S3L2 was "or a creature would come again."
S3L4 was "But what, to us, is known." Then it was "To us, though, all is unknown." Then "To us, though, nothing is known."



Der Gefangene

I

Meine Hand hat nur noch eine
Gebärde, mit der sie verscheucht;
auf die alten Steine
fällt es aus Felsen feucht.

Ich höre nur dieses Klopfen
und mein Herz hält Schritt
mit dem Gehen der Tropfen
und vergeht damit.

Tropften sie doch schneller,
käme doch wieder ein Tier.
Irgendwo war es heller -.
Aber was wissen wir.


Literal translation:
The Prisoner

I.

My hand has just one
gesture left, with which it chases off;
on the ancient stones,
it falls wet from the cliff.

I hear only these drips,
and my heart keeps pace
with the passing of the drops
and wears away with them.

If only they dripped faster,
an animal might come again.
Somewhere it was brighter—.
But what do we know.

Last edited by Susan McLean; 09-16-2021 at 05:58 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 09-13-2021, 04:37 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Sorry, Susan, I don’t think this one works as you have it.

Can you keep the German meter? it’s a nice sung meter that you’ve lost.
sie in L2 is the hand, i.e. not ‘them.’
“käme doch wieder ein Tier” is I think better as “then a creature,” not or – it’s not an either-or sentence.
The last sentence means, to my mind, basically “But what the hell do we know.” So, I think your tone at present is wrong, sorry.
I do think much of this has pretty easy remedies, which is nice, but I also think you need them here.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 09-13-2021, 01:11 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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John, I have tried making the adjustments you suggested. It is hardest to find a substitute for the last line while still keeping a rhyme.

Susan
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  #4  
Unread 09-16-2021, 05:25 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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Hi Susan,
is it too much of a liberty to change the last line to:

But here, nothing is known.
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  #5  
Unread 09-16-2021, 05:59 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Martin, though I hesitate to add a "here" that has no textual support, you did give me an idea for varying the meter more by rewording the last line. Thanks.

Susan
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  #6  
Unread 09-18-2021, 06:24 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I have trouble understanding S1 and S2 on a literal level.

Who/what/how is the hand's gesture chasing off? Is it flicking off water drops that are falling on it?

What creature might come if the water dripped faster, and why? Is this a metaphor for the speaker's hand (or heart) being more animated, or is there a literal animal that might come? Does he mean that if the water dripped faster, a passage might be opened up that would allow a fellow creature--maybe even a fellow human being--to end his solitude? But in what sense would that creature be coming "again," then?

What is the "it" that was brighter elsewhere? Is that the general weather sort of "it," or is there an antecedent? (Actually, I have the same questions about the "it" in "it falls wet from the cliff.")

I realize that there may not be satisfying answers to these questions, but the main ones I need an answer to in any poem are "What's going on, and why should I care?"

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-18-2021 at 06:27 PM.
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  #7  
Unread 09-18-2021, 10:06 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Julie, the poem itself seems to be extremely vague. All I can get from it is images of extreme isolation, dark, and dampness (dripping like a Chinese water torture). Maybe the gesture is meant to chase the drops away from falling on the prisoner. I get the impression that at some point a creature was in the prison that provided some kind of company, a rat perhaps, but that even that creature has deserted him and may never return. The prisoner remembers light, but doesn't know if it will ever be seen again. It is a picture of stasis and despair. Part 2, which I will post tomorrow, gives a bit more detail and provides a context for part 1.

I originally thought that there might be an allusion to the punishment of Loki, in which he was chained beneath a snake that dripped poison on him, which his wife would catch in a basin that occasionally needed to be emptied, allowing the painful poison to fall directly onto him. But there are too many details in that scenario that don't fit what is being described here. So the imprisonment seems generic rather than specific.

Susan
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