Artless Artist

What appeals to me about Rilke’s writing is his mystical message stripped of any effort to “create art”. He seems to be reaching inside to find words to express his experience. His almost desperate need to connect with us buries any aspiation he might have to be a poet.

All the modern translations I’ve seen capture this artless sincerity, but they do it in blank verse. They make no effort to reproduce the rhytmic or rhyme structures that were in the original German. Contrast this with his contemporary translator, Jessie Lemont, who worked brilliantly original English rhymes into her translations.

In honor of Rilke’s birthday (1875), I have sought to continue in Lemont’s tradition, translating a poem that she never tackled.

That Which Has Never Been Spoken

My faith abides all that has not been said.
I set my yearnings free to overspill
Ideals for which men’s sacred blood was shed,
To germinate some day, outside my will.

For this immodesty, I beg my God excuse
These innocent ambitions that seem wild.
An energy that permeates my thews
Has rendered me an unselfconscious child,
Incapable of enmity or ruse.

This flowing in and out which I partake,
Like river rushing to the ocean’s shore
Sweeps through my breast to breathe my soul awake,
And testifies beforeThee from my core
What none has said before.

If this be hope, then let me hopeful be
I tend this prayer,
From best sincerity
Before Thy presence rare.

— JJM 4Dec20

On the Creation of Giant Voiceprint Databases | American Civil Liberties  Union

Alles noch nie Gesagte

Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte.
Ich will meine frömmsten Gefühle befrein.
Was noch keiner zu wollen wagte,
wird mir einmal unwillkürlich sein.

Ist das vermeßen, mein Gott, vergieb.
Aber ich will dir damit nur sagen:
Meine beste Kraft soll sein wie ein Trieb,
so ohne Zürnen und ohne Zagen;
so haben dich ja die Kinder lieb.

Mit diesem Hinfluten, mit diesem Münden
in breiten Armen ins offene Meer,
mit dieser wachsenden Wiederkehr
will ich dich bekennen, will ich dich verkünden
wie keiner vorher.

Und ist das Hoffahrt, so laß mich hoffährtig sein
für mein Gebet,
das so ernst und allein
vor deiner wolkigen Stirne steht.

— from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke (1905)

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