Friday, May 27, 2016

Rilke — Lullaby

By Tracy

So many Rilke poems when translated into English become more sugary or saccharine than they are in Rilke's German. Frequently he will use an odd, twisted, offbeat or unexpected image that I find converted in some published translations into something altogether more stale or predictable than in the original.

Of course all translation involves loss, and changes are inevitable. But you have to wonder why translators of poetry are so often prepared to lose what is most knotty, individual and memorable in a poem. I think of that approach as "smoothing-out", and I would even prefer to read translations that "fail" in other ways if they nonetheless strive to convey the poem's peculiarities.

In many English versions of this poem, "Lullaby", the striking image of the eyelids being lowered disappears altogether...

Rainer Maria Rilke


When one day you’re lost to me
will sleep still come to you, unless
I’m there above you, like branches
whispering from a linden tree?

Unless I’m there keeping watch
and lowering words almost
like eyelids upon your breast,
upon your limbs and your mouth.

Unless I’m there to lock you, close
you up alone with what’s yours
like a garden with a mass
of lemon balm and star anise.

                           trans. Tracy Ryan

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