Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rilke redux

I was recently asked to translate three poems from the German for an event in Cardiff called 'Poetry under Pressure' and I'm still working on them about a month later...

So, alle Achtung, as the Germans say, to David Cook for producing a complete translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnette an Orpheus with Redcliffe Press of Bristol. I know that David has been working on these for many years, and it truly is a stylish and delicious little volume.

Rainer Maria Rilke: The Sonnets to Orpheus
David Cook's translation of  The Sonnets to Orpheus
Rilke clearly has a fascination for British poets. My guess is that this is because he stands on the cusp between the Romantically lyrical and the modernist, that point where much contemporary British taste in poetry still resides. Don Paterson has recently had a go at Orpheus, and there are a number of other competent translations of this sequence by amateurs (in the true and non-pejorative sense) on the Web.

David Cook's approach is engaging because it's so intensely personal. These are as much interpretations of the originals as translations, keeping loosely to the structure of Rilke's variations on the sonnet form, but not seeking to recreate rhyme and scansion at the expense of sense. Sometimes I would quibble with the exact meaning the translator alights on (in the extended metaphor developed in Sonnet II, 6, for example), but that would be to miss the point. These are versions which speak of a long personal engagement with and an individual interpretation of Rilke. What's more, they would be a good starting-point for anyone who can't read the German and who wants to get to grips with a key work of 20th Century European poetry.

Apart from the translations themselves, David provides an excellent contextualization of the work in his introduction, a commentary which made me want to go back to the original poems and look at them in a new way. That, too, can be an important part of the work of the translator.

No comments:

Post a Comment