Tuesday, March 7, 2006

A little bit of Rilke

I have been reading the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke lately. The German is just beautiful. I haven't really found an English translation that captures enough of the feel of it, so I naively decided to give it a try myself. I wanted to try to preserve the rhyming scheme and meter as well as the meaning, because Rilke fits them together so well.

I started with The Book of Hours (Das Stundenbuch) and translated the first two poems. The first, in German, is:

Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an

Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an
mit klarem, metallenem Schlag:
mir zittern die Sinne. Ich fühle: ich kann -
und ich fasse den plastischen Tag.

Nichts war noch vollendet, eh ich es erschaut,
ein jedes Werden stand still.
Meine Blicke sind reif, und wie eine Braut
kommt jedem das Ding, das er will.

Nichts ist mir zu klein, und ich lieb es trotzdem
und mal es auf Goldgrund und groß
und halte es hoch, und ich weiß nicht wem
löst es die Seele los...

And here is my translation:

The clock strikes the hour and stirs me awake

The clock strikes the hour and stirs me awake
with a clear, metallic chime:
my senses now quiver. I feel: I'm able -
and I seize the moldable day

Not a thing is completed outside of my sight
and things yet forming stand still
my vision is ripe, and like a bride in white
receives everything in its will

Nothing is too small to me, and I love it still
and I paint it large and in gold
and I hold it high, and know not for whom
it will cause the soul's wings to unfold

The second poem is pretty well-known. Again, the German version:

Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen

Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,
die sich über die Dinge ziehn.
Ich werde den letzten vielleicht nicht vollbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.

Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiß noch nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein großer Gesang.

And here is my translation:

I live my life in widening rings

I live my life in widening rings
That spread themselves over all
I may not complete the last of these things
But to journey is my call

I circle round God, the most ancient form
My journey a thousand years long
Yet still I don't know: Am I a falcon? a storm?
Or part of a much larger song.


  1. Mark,
    I don't know either the German language or the poet Rilke very well, ... but I love your translations!
    - - Rich Accetta-Evans

  2. i studied German ages ago, because i love Rilke and i like to read on hitler.

    i thought then i could read mein kampf in its original.

    but i do like how you translated one of my favorite poems --- i love my life in widening rings by rmr

  3. Your translation of "Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an" is exactly the same as the 1941 translation by Babette Deutsch published by New Directions.


  4. Mark,

    Your translations are terrific. I left Germany as a child, but remain fond of the language and culture. Thanks for sharing your efforts.

  5. Here's one of the translations at Blackcatpoems.com. They have 16 Rilke translations.