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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. Sommer was very great.

Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
     Lay your shadow across the sundials,

und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
     and in gateways let the Winds loose.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
     Command the last fruits to be heavy;

gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
     give them yet two southerly days,

dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
     press them to their end and crush

die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.
     a final sweetness in thick wine.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
     who has no house now, will build none.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
     who is alone now, will be so for long,

wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
     will lie awake, read, write long letters

und wird in den Alleen hin und her
     and on the boulevards will here and there

unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.
     wander restlessly, like the circling 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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