Posted: 13 Apr 2016 01:35 PM PDT
The interpretation of this poem is complex, to say the least. I have decided to follow my own sense of how it relates to vision, to the inversion of observed and observer, to oracularity and much else, in my translation. My notes are mostly just philological in nature, intended only to give an understanding of how I read the German at the lexical level in a few cases which may not be especially obvious.
L1: UnerhÃ¶rt translated literally lexeme by lexeme means "unheard-of", and has a whiff of "legendary." Other translators of this sonnet have chosen things of this kind: unheard-of, legendary, fabled etc. However, the word also suggests something excessive, tremendous, beyond precedent, above and beyond. In some contexts it might mean "outrageous" as when describing a high price. For some reason, the English term "epic" comes to mind. I'm not entirely sure why, but I like what it does in the English.
L2: AugenÃ¤pfel literally means "eye-apples" and many translators have rendered it thus, but it is in fact a normal and unremarkable way of saying "eyeball" in German. Rilke is capitalizing on the dead metaphor by introducing reiften "ripened."
L3: Kandelaber can mean candelabrum, and most translators have taken it to mean that. But here, it refers to a gaslit streetlight, of the sort that dotted cities in the early 20th century, so named in German because they were commonly shaped in a way reminiscent of candelabra. The gaze is thus zurÃ¼ckgeschraubt "turned/dialed down" as a gaslight's flame would be turned down, but not necessarily off, during the day.
L10: Sturz is normally "fall, plunge, drop" and has, without exception I believe, been so translated. It has two further meanings, however. Sturz was a common synonym for "torso" in sculpture. In common usage it also referred, as it still does in Austria, to a glass cover, or belljar, which would be transparent and reveal its contents even as it covers them.
Posted: 13 Apr 2016 03:16 AM PDT
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to here me recite the original German
His gaze has been so worn from the procession
of bars, that there is nothing it can hold.
There are a thousand bars in his impression;
and there behind a thousand bars, no world.
The powerful soft footsteps' supple movement
turned in the tightest circle of them all
is like a dance of strength about a center
wherein a mighty will stands stunned in stall.
Only at times the pupil's soundless curtain
is reeled away, letting an image start
inward through the taut silence of his sinews
and come to nothing in the heart.
Sein Blick ist vom VorÃ¼bergehen der StÃ¤be
so mÃ¼d geworden, daÃŸ er nichts mehr hÃ¤lt.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend StÃ¤be gÃ¤be
und hinter tausend StÃ¤ben keine Welt.
Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betÃ¤ubt ein groÃŸer Wille steht.
Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos aufâ€”. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stilleâ€”
und hÃ¶rt im Herzen auf zu sein.