Portrait of my father as a young man by Rainer Maria Rilke

rilke

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN

Dream in the eyes.  The brow as in relation

with something distant.  Mouth with more than the norm

Of youth, unsmilingly diffused temptation,

and, placed before the corded decoration

of the slim, gentlemanly uniform,

the sabre-hilt and those two hands, that stay

quiescent, – with no passionate intent.

And hardly to be seen now: as if they

were first to vanish, grasping the unscanned.

And all the rest in self-envelopment

and quenched as if we didn’t understand

and deeply, from its very depth, opaque.

You swiftly fading daguerreotype I take

in my more gradually fading hand.

Rilke

tumblr_ntla4aagll1qf6wbmo1_500

Translations of poetry vary. It’s interesting to compare them. Here are two examples. Which one do you prefer out of the three and why?

Here’s one by Stephen Mitchell:

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN

In the eyes: dream. The brow as if it could feel
something far off. Around the lips, a great
freshness–seductive, though there is no smile.
Under the rows of ornamental braid
on the slim Imperial officer’s uniform:
the saber’s basket-hilt. Both hands stay
folded upon it, going nowhere, calm
and now almost invisible, as if they
were the first to grasp the distance and dissolve.
And all the rest so curtained within itself,
so cloudy, that I cannot understand
this figure as it fades into the background–.

Oh quickly disappearing photograph
in my more slowly disappearing hand.

And here’s the Edward Snow version.

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A YOUNG MAN

In the eyes dream. The brow as if in touch
with something far away. About the lips
immense youth, unsmiling seductiveness,
and across the full ornamental braids
of the slim aristocratic uniform
the saber’s basket-hilt and both the hands–
waiting, calmly, urged toward nothing.
And now scarcely visible: as if they would be
first, grasping the distant, to disappear.
And all the rest self-shrouded
and erased as if we didn’t understand
and by something deep in its own depths dimmed–.

O you swiftly fading daguerreotype
in my more slowly fading hands.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s