Tuesday, January 21, 2014

You be the judge

A few months ago I finally found the translation I did of Rilke's "Das Karussell" more than two decades ago. There are few things I've done that I am proud of, and this happens to be one of them. So, since I no longer have a Mommy to post my achievements, however modest they may be, to the refrigerator, I posted it here, to this weblog, hoping it would get some admiring comments. It got none. It did get 646 views. My usual post gets two, perhaps three views. That's something, I guess, but I have no idea whether the 646 number counts my own views or not. So, that unusually (for me) high view count could just be my own pathetic middle-aged narcissism, in which case it isn't 'something' after all but a whole lot of masturbatory nothing.

Anyway, in a brief preface to my translation, I wrote:
I translated this poem simply because I could find no translation that did not make me retch. Robert Bly's made Rilke sound like Hemingway, and others made the poem too treacly. Stephen Mitchell had not deigned to grace it with his god-like powers of transformation. This was back in 1993 before Edward Snow came out with his now acclaimed translations. I still haven't seen what he does with this particular poem, but I'm sure it's better than this.
 Since then I have acquired Mr. Snow's acclaimed translations of Rilke's Neue Gedichte, and as much as my low self-esteem is trying to stop me, I must say that I spoke too soon. Mr. Snow's translation of "Das Karussell" does not suck. But it's bland. And he does not even try to mimic Rilke's rhythm or rhyme scheme, which is as much a part of the picture the poet conjures of the Carousel as the meaning of the words. I am not saying that my translation re-produces Rilke's rhythm and rhyme. By no means. But, at the very least, I made an attempt.

But you be the judge, gentle reader.  Here is the last stanza of Snow's translation followed by my rendition of the same:

And so it goes and rushes to be done,
and only circles and turns and has no goal.
A red, a green, a gray drifting past,
a small, scarcely started profile--.
And oftentimes a smile, turned this way,
elated and blissfully adazzle as it spends itself
on this blind, breathless play...

And now me:

And so it goes--faster, hastening its end,
It circles and it turns and has no aim,
A red, a green, a grey sent around,
A small inchoate outline of a face,
And sometimes we see a smile triumphant
And bless'd that sparkles and is spent
On this blind and breathless game...

And for those who read German, the original:

Und das geht hin und eilt sich, dass es endet,
und kreist und dreht sich nur und hat kein Ziel.
Ein Rot, ein Grün, ein Grau vorbeigesendet,
ein kleines kaum begonnenes Profil -.
Und manchesmal ein Lächeln, hergewendet,
ein seliges, das blendet und verschwendet
an dieses atemlose blinde Spiel . . .

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