“Die Kurtisane” (1907)
Venedigs Sonne wird in meinem Haar
ein Gold bereiten: alle Alchemie
erlauchten Ausgang. Meine Brauen, die
den Brücken gleichen, siehst du sie
hinführen ob der lautlosen Gefahr
der Augen, die ein heimlicher Verekhr
an die Kanäle schließt, so daß das Meer
in ihnen steigt und fällt und wechselt. Wer
mich einmal sah, beneidet meinen Hund,
weil sich auf ihm oft in zerstreuter Pause
die Hand, die nie an keiner Glut verkohlt,
die unverwundbare, geschmückt, erholt—.
Und Knaben, Hoffnungen aus altem Hause,
gehn wie an Gift an meinem Mund zugrund.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
The short breakdown of Rilke's poetic output follows. Early-enough Rilke wrote semi-mystical poetry, collected in the Book of Hours, much of it produced in or inspired by his time in Russia. Then he went to Paris, worked as Rodin's secretary, and, inspired by the sculptor's approach, entered what we call his middle period, 1905–1912, about, which contains his Dinggedichte or Thing Poems. The New Poems (a collection) belong here. It's a return to form (or forms), an emphasis on objects or people: the Archaic Torso of Apollo, the Courtesan, the Panther, etc. And many many sonnets or pseudo-sonnets. He then had one of history's most famous cases of writer's block, constipation of the brain and hand that lasted years. At the end of it we have the “Sonnets to Orpheus” and “Duino Elegies,” all of which are more difficult works to comprehend, yet beautiful.
Duino Castle itself, outside Trieste, is beautiful as well.
A colleague recommended Jasper Fforde to me when I showed her House of Leaves two weeks back. It wasn't because they are similar, it was just a matter of “This is what my husband and I are reading, and you might like it.”
A friend out west got himself some action the other night for the first time in a long time and was wondering whether he should make a special gesture to the object of his affections and injections. Flowers? he queried.
I replied, “With a card: ‘Hey, that wasn't a bad way to spend an evening. Let's do it again some time.’” I figured “Practice makes perfect, and you need practice,” wasn't bad, either.
Then we decided that Cunter Crass would be the name of an award-winning German author of erotica.
Alas it went downhill from there, from tactless to tasteless. Perhaps that's why we talk so little these days.
Rilke's poem is rather clearly a sonnet, rather easily but not too strictly following the meter. The rhetorical turn between the 2x4 and the 2x3 is less evident than in some such poems, but there is still a turn from the comparison of the ego to Venice, particularly its bridges, to more concrete actions around the poetic self (e.g. the dog, suitors).
What I do not like about the translation is that it is too faithful to the sonnet form as employed by Rilke, and in so being loses his syntax and his rhetoric. The translation feels archaic and forced, as if trying to be pretty for pretty's sake. A pity.
Perhaps petty on my part.
Rilke uses relative clauses; Leishman changes the breaks (comma locations) and obscures the syntax. “Whoever has seen me envies my dog, because this hand of mine—never incinerated, impervious to injury, bejewelled—often recuperates upon him.” Not particularly poetic, I admit, but clearer as to what is being said.
Using a gendered pronoun for Venice in the first two stanzas provides a less subtle eroticism to those passages than is to be found in Rilke's verse.
The sun of Venice in my hair's prepairing
a gold where lustrously shall culminate
all alchemy. My brows, which emulate
her bridges, you can contemplate
over the silent perilousness repairing
of eyes which some communion secretly
unites with her canals, so that the sea
rises and ebbs and changes in them. He
who once has seen me falls to envying
my dog, because, in moments of distraction,
this hand no fieriness incinerates,
scathless, bejewelled, there recuperates.—
And many a hopeful youth of high extraction
will not survive my mouth's envenoming.
—Translated by J. B. Leishman
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