A few years ago, I posted two translations of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Herbsttag" ("Autumn Day"). I have since suggested that I find Rilke's poetry to be a bit overwrought for my taste. But I acknowledged that the fault is likely my own for not being able to match his passion. However, when it comes to autumn, a little overwroughtness is acceptable at times.
All of which leads to another poem by Rilke, one that is perhaps less well-known than "Autumn Day." I again offer two translations, since the different approaches of translators can be interesting.
The leaves are falling, falling from far away,
as though a distant garden died above us;
they fall, fall with denial in their wave.
And through the night the hard earth falls
farther than the stars in solitude.
We all are falling. Here, this hand falls.
And see -- there goes another. It's in us all.
And yet there's One whose gently holding hands
let this falling fall and never land.
Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by William Gass), in William Gass, Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation (Knopf 1999).
The leaves are falling, falling from trees
in dying gardens far above us; as if their slow
free-fall was the sky declining.
And tonight this heavy earth is falling away
from all the other stars, drawing into silence.
We are all falling now. My hand, my heart,
stall and drift in darkness, see-sawing down.
And some still believe there is one who sifts and holds
the leaves, the lives, of all those softly falling.
Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robin Robertson), in The Times Literary Supplement (July 30, 1999).
There are certainly a great number of variations between Gass's version and Robertson's version. This may be attributable to the fact that Robertson identifies his version as being "after Rilke." When a translation is described as being "after [insert name of poet]" this is usually a signal from the translator to the reader that the translation is not "literal," and that some artistic license has been employed. (I realize that the phrase "literal translation" is an oxymoron.) In any case, I am in no position to render an opinion on either translation since I have no German.
However, at least the translators do agree on two things: "the leaves are falling" and "we all are falling"/"we are all falling now." I think that we can assent to both of those statements.