A Translation Attempt

Love Song

Rainer Maria Rilke


How might I restrain my soul
from touching yours? How could I
raise it beyond you to other things?
How I would secret it
in some far place, dark and
silent as the space between stars,
which is not shaken when you tremble.

But all that touches you and me
unites us, as a bow stroke
calls from separate strings a unison.
On what instrument are we strung?
And what artist handles us?
Ah, sweetest song.


(translated from the German by David Oestreich, sort of)

I was reminded today while reading the blog post of a friend of this favorite poem of mine by Rilke. Easy to be my favorite Rilke, I’ve read so few. But it got me thinking about how translation of poetry might go. I read it as best I could in French (the only foreign tongue of which I have a little) and compared that to several translations. The original German was impenetrable by me, of course.

But I found some notions striking me; some areas of the translations I read seemed somewhat off. And so I devised a scheme I shall not now reveal to get behind the German and try my own hand. Of course, I’d read four or five translations, so I was no tabula rasa, but that might have helped me seek something others had not done.

What do you think? I abandoned any meter and the rhyme that was there, and strove instead for a sparer energy and elegance. I don’t know, though, about the proximity of united and unison. Too close?

I might try a few of these and see how it goes.

3 comments to A Translation Attempt

  • Joel

    It is good for you to do it, I think, simply because it is good to study art carefully. And a good exercise in words and meanings and ways of putting things.

    It is on the other hand odd to handle a poet’s works carefully but not in his own words.

    I like the result.

  • d4v34x


    Yes, the careful study of the art is my main purpose. I shan’t revolutionize the translation of Rilke.

    It is even odder since I can’t read his original words much at all.

  • Joel

    It is odd, but that has its advantages.

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