Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Autumn Day": Two Versions Of Rilke

In keeping with the autumnal turn that this month's posts have taken, Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Herbsttag" ("Autumn Day") came to mind.  When it comes to Rilke, I rely upon translators.  The poem has likely been translated into English dozens of times.  I am familiar with the following two versions.

                            Autumn Day

Lord:  it is time.  The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell in The Selected Poetry of  Rainer Maria Rilke (1982).

                           Samuel Palmer, "The Bright Cloud" (1834)

                            Autumn Day

Lord, it is time.  The summer was too long.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now,
and through the meadows let the winds throng.

Ask the last fruits to ripen on the vine;
give them further two more summer days
to bring about perfection and to raise
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now will establish none,
whoever lives alone now will live on long alone,
will waken, read, and write long letters,
wander up and down the barren paths
the parks expose when leaves are blown.

Translated by William Gass in Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation (1999).

                         Samuel Palmer, "The Gleaning Field" (c. 1833)


zmkc said...

Fascinating to see the differences in the translations - what happened to the hugeness of summer in the second version, just to start with? I'm going to go and find my dictionary and the original text and see which one is more faithful and which is better (not necessarily the same thing, I suppose)

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you very much for visiting and commenting, zmkc. My visits to your blog always give me great pleasure.

Yes, the differences in the translations are interesting, aren't they? In addition to your point about "hugeness," I am also particularly curious about (1) Mitchell's "boulevards" versus Gass's "the barren paths the parks expose," and (2) the fact that they both give us "write long letters," but Mitchell adds "through the evening" while Gass omits that phrase.

I agree with your point about "faithful" as opposed to "better" when it comes to translations. For instance, I have always loved Ezra Pound's translations of Chinese poetry (e.g., "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter") even though they take a great deal of liberty with (or, less charitably, show an ignorance of) Chinese, according to those who know the language.

Thank you again, zmkc.

zmkc said...

Thank you, Stephen. I really enjoy your blog too - as well as its content, you choose such beautiful images.
Interestingly, someone who taught me at university became the translator of one of the books of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past - there was a big project a few years ago to produce a rival or counterpoint or whatever to Moncrieff's version. Another friend of mine who has kept up with our teacher told me that the poor man had been driven to distraction by the senior editor for the series, because, according to my friend, the new vogue in the literary translation world, or at least that part of it, was to make a very literal translation - something that is quite clearly a translation rather than something that reads so smoothly that you would not know the text was not written originally in English. The new approach sounds completely batty to me and probably almost as hard as making a beautiful, faithful-to-the-artistic-intention-of-the-original-author type translation. Sad to say, my university teacher's finished result was humiliatingly panned by critics, mostly thanks to decisions he never would have chosen to make. I must check actually to see if they called it Remembrance of Things Past or whether they decided to go for the literal 'In Search of Lost Time', which is certainly faithful but, to my ear, clunks, especially as it has strong echoes of Raiders of the Lost Ark these days.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for visiting and commenting again, zmkc.

I presume that you are referring to the 6-volume Penguin edition that came out earlier this decade -- with a different translator for each of the volumes, and a single general editor. It was indeed titled 'In Search of Lost Time.' (As was the D. J. Enright-revised Moncrieff translation that came out earlier.) I confess that I have not summoned up the courage and fortitude to dive into the Penguin version -- and at this point in life I'll probably stick with Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright.

I agree that, having grown up with 'Remembrance of Things Past', 'In Search of Lost Time' does seem harsh to the ear. Moncrieff may have taken some license with his title, but it is more redolent for me.

Thanks again, zmkc.

zmkc said...

In contemplating the original text plus translations, I just found this interesting discussion of the problems of translating the poem:

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you very much, zmkc! The discussion that you provided a link to is fascinating.

vzjp said...

Autumn day

Lord: it is time. The summer's breadth was vast.
Drape now Thy shadow over sundial faces,
Let the winds race through barren meadowgrass.

Command the tardy fruit to reach full shape;
Grant two more days of southerliness pleasing,
Urge them to wholesomeness, give chase uneasing
To top up sweetness in the heavy grape.

Who has no house as yet, left it too late.
Who is alone, will find it heavy going,
Will gaze, and read, write letters ever growing,
Avenues to-and-fro perambulate,
Restlessly wander, while the leaves are blowing.

Stephen Pentz said...

vzjp: thank you very much for your version of the poem -- it adds yet more to think about, when comparing it to the other two versions. I greatly appreciate your sharing it.

Thank you for visiting, and I hope you will return.