Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Rilke and Unicorns (3rd instalment)

Tim this morning reminded me of Paul Muldoon's brilliant translation (in his book Hay) of the Rilke unicorn sonnet I posted about last time.

To round off my investigations among Rilke's unicorn poems, here is a version of Rilke's poem that actually bears the title, "The Unicorn".

Rainer Maria Rilke 
The Unicorn 
The holy man raised his head, and prayer
fell backward like a helmet off his head:
noiselessly, the never-believed drew near,
the white creature, that like a ravished
and helpless hind used its eyes to implore. 
The legs’ ivory framework moved about
with easy poise and equilibrium,
a white sheen floated ecstatic through the coat,
and on the creature’s brow, so clear and calm,
stood, like some moon-tower, the horn so bright,
raised more upright as each step came. 
The muzzle with its grey-pink fuzz
was drawn back slightly, so a little white
(whiter than all else) shone from its jaws;
the nostrils flared and softly panted.
Yet not bounded by any thing, its gaze
tossed images into the space around it
and ended a blue cycle of legends.

                                                           [trans. Tracy Ryan]

Here is part of Naomi Segal's comment on the original German version of this poem:

"This first unicorn text is the least typical in a number of ways. Actually titled ‘Das Einhorn’, unlike any of the others, it features no maiden; femininity is not focused, as conventionally, on the unicorn’s other, but on itself. The unicorn is compared to a female animal: a hind – this is something we almost never find in the literature, at least since the Lascaux painting 160,000 years earlier, though of course it is often a feminised male. The counterpart to the creature, to its distinctively unreal reality, is instead a saint. He is the focaliser, the whole three-sentence text being his vision; in this it connects to the sonnet, where again the being of the creature is dependent on a creative state of contemplativity on the part of others: this thing walks into one’s field of vision only when one is in a kind of dream. In such a state –prayer giving way to legend, the vocative to the collective imaginary – ‘das Niegeglaubte’ is made manifest."

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