Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, July 14, 2014

You Must Change Your Life

A couple of translations of the same poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The first:

Torso of an Archaic Apollo
Translated by C. F. MacIntyre

Never will we know his fabulous head
where the eyes' apples slowly ripened. Yet
his torso glows: a candelabrum set
before his gaze which is pushed back and hid,

restrained and shining. Else the curving breast
could not thus blind you, nor through the soft turn
of the loins could this smile easily have passed
into the bright groins where the genitals burned.

Else stood this stone a fragment and defaced,
with lucent body from the shoulders falling,
too short, not gleaming like a lion's fell;

nor would this star have shaken the shackles off,
bursting with light, until there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Rilke: Selected Poems (Univ. of California Press, 1957)

The second:

Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 - 1926

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

I much prefer the second one, though I have no idea which one is "better" as a translation.  (Someone seems to have gotten to Google Translate, which currently matches the second poem exactly for the line, "to that dark center where procreation flared," which does not seem like Google's usual clunky literal translation.)

[UPDATE:  As Sarang points out, the second translation is by Stephen Mitchell, as I could have discovered if I had scrolled down.  Some other good translations there too.  I think the process of translation (or specifically, multiple translations) actually adds quite a bit of richness to the poem, almost as though you can use parallax to work out its dimensions more precisely.]  [Or if you prefer, it's like computed tomography - like a CT scan in which multiple passes can be combined to infer something that no single scan could show.]

Here is a poem by Elisa Gabbert that refers to the poem.  Like a barbarian, I tried reading every other line (so 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18).  If you ignore the punctuation, it kind of works, or at least it works for me.


Blogger Sarang said...

Second trans. is by Stephen Mitchell. It probably is "better"; it certainly does a better job of avoiding clunkiness.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Elisa said...

"Never will we know his fabulous head" is just absurd.

5:09 PM  
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