August: The Rhythms of Work in Poetry
(click on image to enlarge)
Scything the Hay, the Alps "See, the machine:
how it turns and takes its toll
and pushes aside and weakens us.

Though it draws energy from us,
it, without passion,
drives on and serves."

from Sonnet XVIII (FIRST PART),
from Sonnets to Orpheus
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image called
Scything an Alpine Meadow
—the Alps.
Also: three new
translations from the German.

The guest poems for this week are three new English translations from the work of the German
language poet,
Rainer Maria Rilke (from the Rilke website, a concise hyperlinked biography).

The Rhythms of Work in Poetry

Rilke wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus * at his modest chateau in Muzot, Switzerland, during a period
of intense activity in February of 1922. It was to be his last published work. The sequence of 55
poems, all sharing the same basic form and divided into two parts, is characterized by a marvelously
light and quick energy. Indeed, they seem filled with the exuberance of the mountains in which they
were composed, where everything seems larger than life, colors brighter and more radiant, and
streams faster and more clear.

This then is a poetry of praise, of the air I breathe, the meadow through which I walk, the beauty
of a single windflower opening to receive the morning sun, and yes, of praise itself:


Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr.
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der /
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.

Tiere aus Stille drangen aus dem klaren
gelösten wald von Lager und Genist;
und da ergab sich, daß sie nicht aus List
und nicht aus Angst in sich so leise waren,

sondern aus Hören. Brüllen, Schrei, Geröhr
schien klein in ihren Herzen. Und wo eben
kaum eine Hütte war, dies zu empfangen,

ein Unterschlupf aus dunkelstem Verlangen
mit einem Zugang, dessen Pfosten beben,—
da schufst du ihnen Tempel im Gehör.

There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O high tree of the ear.
And all was still. Yet in the stillness
new beginning, summoning, change sprang /

From the silence, creatures pushed out
of the clear, open forest from lair and nest;
and surrendered themselves, that they were not
so quiet because of cunning or fear,

but because of listening. Shrieks, cries, roars
seemed small in their hearts. And where once
scarcely a hut stood to receive this,

a crude shelter made of the darkest of longings
with trembling posts at its entrance way,—
there you created a temple in their hearing.

| listen to German original; listen to English trnaslation # |


Schon, horch, hörst du der ersten Harken
Arbeit; wieder den menschlichen Takt
in der verhaltenen Stille der starken
Vorfrühlingserde. Unabgeschmackt

scheint dir das Kommende. Jenes so oft
dir schon Gekommene scheint dir zu kommen
wieder wie Neues. Immer erhofft,
nahmst du es niemals. Es hat dich genommen.

Selbst die Blätter durchwinterter Eichen
scheinen im Abend ein künftiges Braun.
Manchmal geben sich Lüfte ein Zeichen.

Schwarz sind die Sträucher. Doch Haufen /
   von Dünger
lagern als satteres Schwarz in den Aun.
Jede Stunde, die hingeht, wird jünger.

Already, listen, do you hear the work
of raking, again in the human rhythm
within the restrained silence of the strong
spring earth. Not yet tasted appears to you

the impending moment. Something which
came to you before appears to approach
now again as if new. Always hoped for,
you never received it. It received you.

Even the marcescent leaves of oaks
appear in the evening a future brown.
Sometimes, passing winds present a sign.

Black are the bushes. Yet piles /
   of dung
are stored as sated black in the fields.
Each hour, as it passes, grows younger.


Hörst du das Neue, Herr,
dröhnen und beben?
Kommen Verkündiger,
die es erheben.

Zwar ist kein Hören heil
in dem Durchobtsein,
doch der Maschinenteil
will jetzt gelobt sein.

Sieh, die Maschine:
wie sie sich wälzt und rächt
und uns entsellt und schwächt.

Hat sie aus uns auch Kraft,
sie, ohne Leidenschaft,
treibe und diene.

  Rainer Maria Rilke

Do you hear the New, Lord,
rumbling and shaking?
Prophets are coming
who shall exalt it.

Truly, no hearing is whole
around such noise,
and yet the machine's part
too will have its praise.

See, the machine:
how it turns and takes its toll
and pushes aside and weakens us.

Though it draws energy from us,
it, without passion,
serves and drives on.

  (all tr. Cliff Crego)

| listen to Sonnet XVIII [FIRST PART]... German / English one recording # |

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster
Sonnets to Orpheus:I (FIRST PART)
(86 K) |

There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O high tree of the ear.

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster:
Sonnet to Orpheus: XVIII [FIRST PART]
(86 K) | or download as PDF |

Do you hear the New, Lord,
rumbling and shaking?
Prophets are coming
who shall exalt it.

* Orpheus is the musician of musicians of classical Greek mythology. He is the one
whose magical art of the lyre has the power to charm the whole of Nature—the trees,
rivers, stones and even the wild animals, into the silence of listening. Son of Calliope,
the muse of epic poetry, and a Thracian river-god (in some versions of the story Apollo),
Orpheus married the nymph Eurydice who was fated to die of a serpent bite on her heel.
In his profound grief, Orpheus follows his beloved into the underworld, and with the
sound of his lyre enchants the resident deities into consenting to her release. The one
condition which Orpheus has to meet during the ascent back to the upperworld is that
he is not to look back at Eurydice. In a brief moment of weakness, he does, however,
look back, whereby Eurydice vanishes forever without a trace.

Rejecting all women in his sadness afterwards, Orpheus is later ripped to pieces by the
Maenads. This then is the source of the famous image of Orpheus' lyre and singing head,
floating off through empty space to the island of Lesbos.

| see also the Rilke Posters |

| listen to other recordings in English and German of twelve poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page
(# Includes instructions) |
See other recent additions of new English translations of
Rilke's poetry, together with
featured photographs at:

(34) Moments Out of Time

(33) The View to Infinity and Back

(32) June: Every Poem a Prayer

(31) May: The Poetry of Coming and Going

(30) May: Alder Spring

(29) April: Willow Spring

See also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
a presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

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