Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003
In regards to the LanguageHat post on translating Wittgenstein -- I posted in his comments a translation of a line of Rilke that I think is pretty good, and maybe better than the previous translations that have been made of that line -- it was not hard, I used what seems like a pretty obvious device that seems, however, not to have occurred to J.B. Leishman, A.J. Poulin, Steven Cohn, or William Gass. And also I had some interesting ideas about the line of Wittgenstein that is quoted. So this is where I get things out of order and say, "Hey, maybe I've finally found my calling! -- I will translate German literature!"
But wait... what I translated was a single line, or half a line, out of the rather large Duino Elegies -- a work which I have not yet been able to make my way through. Perhaps though, some future exists for me as a translator of epigrams.
I have had some fun over the years translating German stories and other stuff, with varying degrees of success. I would like to reproduce here my best effort thus far, coincidentally also a poem by Rilke:
Kalter Herbst vermag den Tag zu knebeln,
seine tausend Jubelstimmen schweigen;
hoch vom Domturm wimmern gar so eigen
Sterbeglocken in Novembernebeln.
Auf den nassen Daechern liegt verschlafen
weisses Dunstlicht; und mit kalten Haenden
greift der Sturm in des Kamines Waenden
eines Totenkarmens Schlussoktaven.
The November Day
Cold autumn can muzzle the day,
silence its thousand jubilating voices;
from the high cathedral tower whimper, so peculiar,
from the steeple whimper, so peculiar,
death bells in November's mist.
On the wet rooftops lies sleeping
a white fog; and with cold hands
the storm inside the chimney's walls strikes
a death-karma's closing octaves.
It loses meter and rhyme which are, yes, rather important in the original -- but I think it communicates Rilke's image and feeling quite well. And I'm happy about preserving much of the word order and separation by line of images. By the way: is anyone else reminded very strongly of the end of Prufrock? -- I refer to the catlike fog which curled around the roof and fell asleep, I think is how it goes.
Update: I changed "high cathedral tower" to "steeple" in response to an accurate observation by LanguageHat that the former was too long. The rhythm is a lot better now. Also I took out a "the" in the following line and replaced it with an "'s". LH does not like the inversion in "lies sleeping/ a white fog", but I do, it's staying in there.
Update 2:I realize a potential major problem with this translation is, I have no clear idea what "a death-karma's closing octaves" means. If you have any thoughts in this regard, please let me know.