poetry > spring 2016


Rainer Maria Rilke

Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder,
die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält;
du schaust: und von dir scheiden sich die Länder,
ein himmelfahrendes und eins, das fällt;

und lassen dich, zu keinem ganz gehörend,
nicht ganz so dunkel wie das Haus, das schweigt,
nicht ganz so sicher Ewiges beschwörend
wie das, was Stern wird jede Nacht und steigt—

und lassen dir (unsäglich zu entwirrn)
dein Leben band und riesenhaft und reifend,
so dass es, bald begrenzt und bald begreifend,
abwechselnd Stein in dir wird und Gestirn.


translated from German by Michaela Kotziers

The day returns, slowly, its clothes
that belong to the sun,
evening giving new darkness
to the legs of old trees.

You look,
and in your eyes these hours part,
one skyward traveling, one descending;

neither claims you whole.
They leave you
not so entirely dark as that house,
that one silent over there,
not so entirely sure in prolonged longing
as that thing,
that every-night star that rises

and lowers to you (unspeakably entwined)
your life
shaken, roaring, but ripened
so that soon bound, soon understanding,
it tumbles in you
stone to stardust, stardust to stone.

Translator's Note

Rainer Maria Rilke was a modern German-language poet, intensely lyrical in his writing. With his experiments of syntax and images, collections of Rilke’s poetry work towards a philosophy of objective impressions, and truths of human life. Perhaps his most well known books of poetry are Neue Gedichte (New Poems) and Duino Elegies, the second of which were said to “have had as much influence in German-speaking countries as [T. S. Eliot's] The Waste Land has in England and America." “Abend,” the poem that I translated, could be placed with Rilke’s Dinggedichte (thing poems), which search to explain the human through the non-human (Dinge). My translation does not mirror Rilke’s formal verse, but it does stay true to the original’s simple vocabulary to describe the everyday scene of evening. What I found most interesting and did preserve was Rilke’s syntax—long sentences that spill from one line and stanza to the next, imitating the way in which Abend (evening) is both the day and night, two Länder (worlds) blending into one another rather than two independent beings. “Evening” would be a literal translation of Abend, but I felt that the original’s title of Abend encompasses the feeling of the poem rather than simply designating the time of day in which the poem takes place. In trying to find an English word that was more nuanced than what I find to be our understanding of “evening,” “twilight” came to mind with its blurred borders of night and day, but the sound of the word wasn’t right. So, as an instance of untranslatability, Abend remains in German for my title.

MICHAELA KOTZIERS is a junior studying English Literature and German at Penn. She began writing poetry in her first year of college and has since taken interest in translation, especially that of Old English poetry and with experiments in form.