Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rilke... The Archaic Torso of Apollo : further to discussion 7/19

We spoke about the problem of translation: Here is Rilke's original. Although the Stephen Mitchell translation preserves the "sonnet-ness", it does not reproduce the sound and rhyme-scheme.

COMPARE: The sound of Rilke’s German and his poem on the utube link below

Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug

der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen

der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen

zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz

unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz

und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern

aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,

die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

Some argue that translation “frees a poem”
but I would argue that such liberty also entails sacrifice.
Words like “Augenäpfel” – literally eyes-apple (apple eyes is not quite the same) have a deeper meaning than “fruit”. Kandelaber, as candelabrum, repeats “aber” (but) as if reinforcing (and embracing) the opposition, of the archaic torso and our contemporary view.
Note the embraced rhyme in the first two quatrains,
the interlacing of the tercets: eef / gfg. How the last word in German sounds like the English “end” but is the verb “change” which rhymes with the noun, Rändern, which means, edge, or border.
The “you” is the familiar “du”.

Just a few observations about the German, opens our eyes to the meaning, which is not in the English. Now compare the Mitchell to this translation:

Torso of an Archaic Apollo
Translated by C. F. MacIntyre

Never will we know his fabulous head
where the eyes' apples slowly ripened. Yet
his torso glows: a candelabrum set
before his gaze which is pushed back and hid,
restrained and shining. Else the curving breast

could not thus blind you, nor through the soft turn

of the loins could this smile easily have passed

into the bright groins where the genitals burned.
Else stood this stone a fragment and defaced,

with lucent body from the shoulders falling,

too short, not gleaming like a lion's fell;
nor would this star have shaken the shackles off,

bursting with light, until there is no place

that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Rilke: Selected Poems (Univ. of California Press, 1957)

You might also try gazing at the marble Miletus Torso of Apollo in the Louvre from which Rilke takes his inspiration”

Many of you may have consulted Mark Doty’s comments:
That startling last sentence that knocks us flat – we have experienced something so powerful, there is no way out of it.
"By nature, the sonnet feels complete. To write a poem about something broken in the form which suggests wholeness and completeness is an interesting thing to do. It's a very 20th century kind of use of form, to talk about the fragmentation of a spiritual experience in a very whole way."

In our discussion, I opened with Rae Armantrout's poem, "Scumble" which started a conversation about art pushing the limits — how once upon a time, there was a model, and a classroom full of people sketching it, and you would have as many different sketches as people of the one object.
Here are words. Here is one person’s organization of them. We talked a bit about “Eliptical” poetry — how the danger of writing a little “thought bomb” without a greater, universal theme, developed so that more than the person writing the thought can access it, becomes a private diary that leaps from one private thought to another.
Charlene brought up the acronym HAITE. Here’s An Idea. The End.

Notice how Rilke is not talking about his preoccupation with language, or idea. He has gone to the Louvre, taken Rodin's advice to choose something, and write about it. He is not caught in the "never will we know his head" -- although the suspense of knowing only a part of a statue representing a hero or God, forces us to look at what remains -- who is anyone without the distinguishing features of a head -- even if it is a stylized version of a function or God. And what is this inner glow that the marble allows through the outer layer. McIntyre uses the word "shackles" and "break out" whereas Mitchell talks of "borders of self", and "burst" and all of a sudden observing the inner light of a headless, broken God, this "fall" of a body,
this "cascade" suspended in stone, this fragment is time and history and all men have thought of it, as if each curve is a bow, each observation an arrow and the line that does not exist in human flesh, but smiles as it curves from thighs to hips past genitals demands full attention.
Each reading, the understanding deepens, and demands more of us in our living. We cannot escape the light. The sonnet in its wholeness, prepares us to be convinced of something,
and it is a personal challenge to meet: Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

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