a short poem from Rilke's French and a "translator's note" on its background at
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Friday, September 1, 2017
Rainer Maria Rilke (left) and Paul Valéry, at Anthy, Switzerland, in September, 1926. Valéry was, perhaps, the living poet whom Rilke most admired. Rilke had published a superb translation of "Le Cimetière marin" in 1921, followed by German renderings of other works by Valéry, enough for a volume, Paul Valéry: Gedichte, which appeared the year before this photograph was taken. Valéry could not read German and had no experience of Rilke's German poems in their original language, but he expressed admiration for the poems in French that Rilke was writing feverishly during these years and had published several of them in his magazine, Commerce. The two poets look happy, which is always rare enough in photographs of Rilke, and which might serve as an indication of his pleasure in meeting Valéry, especially considering that Rilke was already suffering quite badly from leukemia. He died in December of this same year.
My translations of three of Rilke's French poems are online today at
Monday, July 10, 2017
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Unattributed photo from Petrarch's house at Arqua, in the Euganean Hills
Epitaph for Petrarch's Cat, Embalmed and Mounted
Antonio Quarenghi (17th century)
The Tuscan poet burned with a twin love,
but yet his Laura was second to me.
Why laugh? Her heavenly beauty was enough
to make her worthy --- so was my fidelity.
She inspired verses and genius for his poems,
which, thanks to me, were no cruel rodents' prey.
Alive, I drove the mice from his sacred tomes,
lest words be food when the master was away.
Dead, I strike fear in those cowards just as well,
my faithfulness still quick in this lifeless shell.
Etruscus gemino vates ardebat amore:
Maximus ignis ego; Laura secundus erat.
Quid rides? divinæ illam si gratia formæ,
Me dignam eximio fecit amante fides.
Si numeros geniumque sacris dedit illa libellis
Causa ego ne sævis muribus esca forent.
Arcebam sacro vivens à limine mures,
Ne domini exitio scripta diserta forent;
Incutio trepidis eadem defuncta pavorem,
Et viget exanimi in corpore prisca fides.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Dream ended, I went out, awake
To new snow fallen in the dark,
Stainless on road and field, no track
Yet printed on my day of work.
I heard the wild ones muttering,
Assent their dark arrival made
At dawn, gray dawn on dawn-gray wing
Outstretched, shadowless in that shade,
Down from high distances arrived
Within the shelter of the hill;
The river shuddered as they cleaved
Its surface, floated, and were still.
-- Wendell Berry
This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems
Friday, March 17, 2017
Mourning statues at the Staglieno Cemetery in Genoa
Creative Commons license via Pixabay
An Epitaph for Erotion, a Child of Five
Here, in early dark, Erotion sleeps through death.
Her thieving, sixth winter reft her away.
Who governs this field, after my last day,
please keep the yearly rites for her frail wraith ---
then your house and people will thrive, the one
grieving thing in all your acres be this stone.
Hic festinata requiescit Erotion umbra,
Crimine quam fati sexta peremit hiems.
Quisquis eris nostri post me regnator agelli,
Manibus exiguis annus iusta dato:
Sic lare perpetuo, sic turba sospite solus
Flebilis in terra sit lapis iste tua.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
This is one of the best poems I know of (the original, I mean. The translation clunks and clanks and barely manages.) There is nothing more tender in the ancient world than Martial's grief and his concern that this child not be frightened in the underworld (she was, it seems, a real girl, not an imagined one). It occurs to me that this is also a gesture of love and piety toward Martial's parents, who must have died recently, if a five-year-old is going to recognize them. He sends her on ahead, trusting to his parents' kindness and letting them know that they are still in his mind.
On the Death of Erotion, a Slave Child
I commend this girl, this sweet one, my delight,
Fronto and Flaccilla, my parents, into your care,
so that with you little Erotion might not take fright
at Cerberus's triple roar or the phantoms there.
Had she lived six more days of winter cold,
she'd have prided herself on being six years old.
With such familiar protectors, let her trick and play
and still lisp my name, as she used to do.
May mellow sod veil her brittle bones --- and weigh
Lightly on her, kind earth; she was light on you.
Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvula ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Impletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,
vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Winter Slips Away
Like a boat that has drifted from its mooring,
softly, irresistibly, Winter slips away
--- already gone or still here? who knows?
In town, one catches mere hints, nothing yet
of the bursting forth of bloom, of the sweetness
of a bud that opens and for a moment
is neither bud nor leaf: birth.
Clouds come and go, a caravan
with news of unknown climes,
of faraway fields and rivers
--- a caravan that doesn't pause, perhaps
learns nothing here --- then the sky is blue,
only the birds are in tune with it
--- in us there is something that doesn't yet shift
easily, that stays blockily put
like an abandoned parcel: this feeling that we
are the sole thing in the world that isn't new again.
Comme un bateau à l'amarre détachée,
doucement, irrésistiblement, Hiver s'écarte
--- déjà absent, encore présent? qui le sait?
En ville on ne saisit que des signes, rien encore
de l'éclat des fleurs, de la douceur
du bourgeon qui s'ouvre et un moment
n'est ni bourgeon ni fleur: naissance.
Les nuages passent, caravane
avec ses nouvelles des climats inconnus,
des campagnes et des fleuves lointains
--- caravane qui ne s'arrête pas, peut-être
n'apprend rien --- puis le ciel est bleu,
seuls les oiseaux sont en accord avec lui
--- en nous quelque chose qui ne bouge plus
facilement, qui reste posé là
comme un colis abandonné: sentiment
d'être seul au monde à ne pas reverdir.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Monday, February 20, 2017
Friday, February 17, 2017
Gott spricht zu jedem nur, eh er ihn macht,
dann geht er schweigend mit ihm aus der Nacht.
Aber die Worte, eh jeder beginnt,
diese wolkigen Worte, sind:
Von deinen Sinnen hinausgesandt,
geh bis an deiner Sehnsucht Rand;
gib mir Gewand.
Hinter den Dingen wachse als Brand,
dass ihre Schatten, ausgespannt,
immer mich ganz bedecken.
Lass dir Alles geschehn: Schönheit und Schrecken.
Man muss nur gehn: Kein Gefühl ist das fernste.
Lass dich von mir nicht trennen.
Nah ist das Land,
das sie das Leben nennen.
Du wirst es erkennen
an seinem Ernste.
Gib mir die Hand.
God speaks to each creature only before he makes it,
then walks silently with it out of the night.
But the words, before each begins,
those cloud-shrouded words, are:
Sent outward by your senses,
go to the limit of your longing;
and so clothe me.
Rise behind things like a fire,
so that their long-drawn shadows
cover me over.
Let everything happen to you: Beauty and Terror.
One must only keep going: no feeling is final.
Don't stray far from me.
Nearby is the land
that they call life.
You will know it
by its graveness.
Give me your hand.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
The Book of Hours
(my translation, rather literal and quick)
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
These images, in which I find a strange, abstract beauty, are cropped and enlarged sections of an aerial news photograph (by Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune) showing the Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline on federal land, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. A federal judge on Monday refused to stop construction on the last stretch of the Dakota Access pipeline. The honourable efforts of the Dakota people to protect their land and water will almost certainly fail, under the weight of corporate interests, paired with the federal government's unsleeping insistence toward empire.
Here, in this time of fade and dissolution, we are surrounded by the long, somber rhythms of many things dying.
One can see the full image here.