Dec 092010

In the last years of his life, Rilke wrote hundreds of poems in French. Not widely translated, they continue his meditations on and imaginings about the things of the world but in the fresh expression of this adopted language. Marilyn McCabe is poet and essayist and an old friend, part of “the Greenfield Crowd,” a disparate and rowdy group of writers, painters, cellists and cross-country skiers loosely based in Greenfield, NY (though Marilyn actually lives in Saratoga Springs). Laura Von Rosk and Naton Leslie, who have both appeared on these pages, are part of the group. Marilyn has published widely, including an essay in VCFA’s own magazine Hunger Mountain. With Elaine Handley and Mary Shartle (two more members of the Greenfield Crowd), she published a collection called Three Poets on Themes of Love, Death, and Sex. It’s a great pleasure to be able to introduce her here.

from Vergers (Orchards)

Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated from French by Marilyn McCabe


Ce soir mon coeur fait chanter
des anges qui se souviennent….
Une voix, presque mienne,
par trop de silence tentée,

monte et se decide
à ne plus revenir;
tender et intrépide,
à quoi va-t-elle s’unir?

Tonight my heart makes sing
the angels who are remembering….
A voice, close to mine,
lured by too much silence,

rises and decides
to never return;
intrepid and tender,
with what will it unite?


Reste tranquille, si soudain
l’Ange à sa table se décide:
efface doucement les quelques rides
qui fait la nappe sous ton pain.

Tu offriras ta rude nourriture,
pour qu’il en goûte à son tour,
et qu’il soulève à la lèvre pure
un simple verre de tous les jours.

Stay still, if suddenly
the Angel chooses your table:
softly smooth the wrinkles
in the cloth beneath your bread.

Offer up your own few bites,
so he can have his taste,
and he can lift to his pure lips
a simple glass of all your days.

7 Palm (to Mme et M Albert Vulliez)

Paume, doux lit froissé
où des étoiles dormantes
avaient laissé des plis
en se levant vers le ciel.

Est-ce que ce lit était tel
qu’elles se trouvent reposées,
claires et incandescentes,
parmi les asters amis
en leur élan eternal?

Ô les deux lits de mes mains,
abondonnés et froids,
legers d’un absent poids
de ces asters d’airain.

Palm, soft rumpled bed
where sleeping stars
left lines
before they rose to sky.

Was it this bed
where they found rest,
clear and incandescent now
among their astral friends
in their eternal source?

Oh the two beds of my hands,
abandoned and cold,
lit by the absent load
of those hard stars.

—Rilke, translated from the French by Marilyn McCabe

See also Marilyn McCabe’s “The Sausage Poem” for fun.

  6 Responses to “from Vergers, Three Poems by Rilke Translated by Marilyn McCabe”

  1. Thanks for these–I am a huge Rilke fan.

  2. Beautiful, in the French and the English. “Oh, the two beds of my hands…” Angels and sleeping stars, so lovely.

  3. Yes, my favorite of the all three: “Palm, soft rumpled bed/ where sleeping stars/left lines.” Thanks, Marilyn.

  4. Thank you for your beautiful translations of the Rilke poems. I am obsessed with Rilke and this adds to my knowledge of his work…gorgeous.

  5. Hey! I’ve translated4 Rilke poems from the French (“Saltimbanques”) Know of one other person who’s just published some translations of Rilke from French (Susan Pederson). We should talk sometime about our difficult choices.

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