BACK TO MAIN
A Poem by Rainer Maria Rilke
Herbsttag. This poem, long a favorite of mine, by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is titled (translated into English) Autumn Day. Rilke, who was born and raised in Prague, today Czechia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, reached mystical levels with the art and passion of his poetry. Since this particular poem is truly an Autumn composition, I'll translate it here, as one of the many touches I hope to add to this autumnal website. Its Mozart-like charm as ever brings art to my heart. I read it as lyric poetry with its own resonance, comparable to the fine music in Sappho, Catullus, Poe, and another old favorite, W. H. Auden. As a poet, I deeply feel its language, both the words and its mythic resonance. I don't dabble in fads, but relish the permanence (as preserved and appreciated; dread to think what has been lost) of its grandeur. I will let this exemplar speak for itself.
Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Lord, it is time. Summer was grand.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
Lay your shadow across the sundials,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
and let Winds loose in the gateways.
Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
Command the last fruits to be ripe;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
give them another two southerly days,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
press them to fullness and crush
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
a final sweetness into the thick wine.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
who has no house now, will not build himself one.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
who is alone now, will be alone for a long time;
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
he'll lie awake, read, write long letters
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
and will wander restless along boulevards
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.
here and there, amid aimlessly scattering leaves.
Transitore, Traduttore. Ezra Pound wrote: "Translator, Betrayer." Like so many translators of this poem, I have taken my best meticulous care to drive the final essence into the heavy meaning of Rilke's word-wine, as closely to his sense as I perceive, and as carefully as I could translate.
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