Translation/ Übersetzung
by / von Walter A. Aue

Rainer Maria Rilke:


Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gib ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Rainer Maria Rilke:

Day in Autumn

Lord, it is time! Your summer's reign was grand.
Beshadow now the dials of your sun
and let your winds run rough across the land.

The latest fruits command to fill and shine:
For them, let two more warmer days arrive
to push them to perfection and to drive
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

The man without a house will build no more,
the man without a mate will sole remain,
will wake, will read, write letters long with pain
and walk the boulevards, restless to the core,
where falling leaves are drifting with the rain.

I have to apologize: This is a poor translation. Worse, the last stanza is a couple of shades bleaker than the original. And worst, I have shifted its clear meaning and rendered it equivocal to boot.

My only excuse is that I love this poem and I wanted to have it around. As the old earworm croons: You always hurt the one you love...

But not to worry: Many people love this poem and hence it has been translated again and again. On the admirable archive of translations website of Brindin Press, there are at the moment five versions, each just a second's click away from the next! Compare also a page from the beckoning. They tell a lot about Rilke's mastery of the medium, about the translator's plight, and about what makes humans love poems...

Note added in August 2007

Today, and by pure chance, I stumbled onto C. John Holcombe's marvellous translation workshop, using this very poem. Some fourteen different English translations are cited and linked there, not to count the workshop versions themselves.

"Rilke translation has become an industry" remarked John Holcombe. Lord, it is time. As long as the Chinese don't take it over...


Other poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

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First posted: December 2003
Last updated: June 2010

N.B.: The frame around the poems
shows fallen leaves in a nearby pond.
Want to see the original photograph?

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