RILKE | May: Alder Spring
Spring Alpine Moor
"so that he may see you: carried about as if
each slender leg were charged with leaps,
not to be fired as long as the neck

holds the head high in listening: as when, while
bathing in a dark forest, the bather interrupts herself:
the forest pool still reflected in her turning face."

from The Gazelle, a poem
by Rainer Maria Rilke 

This week, an image called
Avalanche Alder Spring
Also: two new translations
from the German.

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The guest poems for this week are two new English translations from the work of the German
language poet,
Rainer Maria Rilke (from the Rilke website, a concise hyperlinked biography).

Alder Spring and the Yin and Yang of
Rhythm and Space
| Listen in RealAudio |

Avalanche Alder (Alnus veridis) pictured above is a modest, unassuming
plant. Its growth form is shrubby, dividing into numerous small branches rising
rarely more than two meters from a central point close to the ground. It generally
forms closed stands which can be quite extensive, and, as its common name
suggests, the Avalanche Alder's preferred habitat is on the steep, north-facing
slopes of the European Alps, from about 900 to 1700 meters in altitude. This
is indeed avalanche country, where at any moment between March on into June
an entire winter's snowpack can suddenly break loose and come crashing down
the mountain. The Avalanche Alder is, however, supremely adapted. The extreme
forces exerted by the sliding snow are met by its flexible branches which simply
give way and bend flat against the ground, letting the great weight pass by

A closer look at the photo reveals also that the Avalanche Alder, like other members
of the Birch family (Betula) has both male and female catkins on the same tree.
male: hanging, and almost ripe; female: erect and just opening). I feel there's
perhaps nothing more beautiful in Nature than getting to know a plant like these
alders well. That is, to become a part of their seasonal cycle, and to watch how
this rhythm changes, ,from year to year.

What I also find interesting about the image is the subtle idea of the complementarity
of masculine and feminine principles embodied in the catkins. It suggests the
yang and yin of the Chinese Taoist. In perhaps an equally subtle way, so too
do the two masterpieces from Rilke's
New Poems (c. 1907) presented
together here suggest a comparable kind of back and forth.

What I would like to call attention to in this context is that, within the same
sonnet form, we hear two very distinct—yet indeed wonderfully complementary—
qualities of movement.

One, the
Archaic Torso of Apollo, is as powerfully masculine in its rhythm,
in its sound, as we imagine the marble of the described figure itself to be. With
the other,
The Gazelle, we hear an enchanting cascade in slow motion
as Rilke offeres us one delicate image after the other, all woven together in a
single long flowing braid, or phrase. Rilke did not often achieve such perfect
balance in contrast. But then, few poets have. Which leads one to marvel all
the more, perhaps as we bump our head against a tangle of twigs while
ascending a snowbound path and pondering such arcane matters of poetics,
at the natural poise and power of but a simple, common, mountain tree.

Archaïscher Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht 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 enstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht 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.

Neuen Gedichte
Archaic Torso of Apollo

We do not know his unheard of head,
in which the seeing of his eyes ripened. But
his trunk still glows like a thousand candles,
in which his looking, only turned down slightly,

continues to shine. Otherwise the thrust of the
breast wouldn't blind you, and from the light twist
of the loins a smile couldn't flow into
that center where the generative power thrived.

Otherwise this stone would stand half disfigured
under the transparent fall of the shoulders,
and wouldn't shimmer like the skin of a wild animal;

it wouldn't be breaking out, like a star, on
all its sides: for there is no place on this stone
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Die Gazelle

Grazella Dorcas

Verzauberte: wie kann der Einklang zweier
erwählter Worte je den Reim erreichen,
der in dir kommt und geht, wie auf ein Zeichen.
Aus deiner Stirne steigen Laub und Leier,

und alles Deine geht schon im Vergleich
durch Liebeslieder, deren Worte, weich
wie Rosenblätter, dem, der nicht mehr liest,
sich auf die Augen legen, die er schließt:

um dich zu sehen: hingetragen, als
wäre mit Sprüngen jeder Lauf geladen
und schösse nur nicht ab, solang der Hals

das Haupt im Horchen hält: wie wenn beim Baden
im Wald die Badende sich unterbricht:
den Waldsee im gewendeten Gesicht.

   Rainer Maria Rilke
aus: Neuen Gedichte
The Gazelle

Grazella Dorcas

Enchanted being: how can the harmony of two
chosen words ever achieve the rhyme,
as with a sign, that comes and goes in you.
Out of your brow rise leaf and lyre,

and everything yours already runs as metaphor
through love songs, the words of which, soft
as rose petals, for the one who no longer reads,
laid upon the eyes, which he closes:

so that he may see you: carried about as if
each slender leg were charged with leaps,
not to be fired as long as the neck

holds the head high in listening: as when, while
bathing in a dark forest, the bather interrupts herself:
the forest pool still reflected in her turning face.

   (tr. Cliff Crego)

Above is my online Rilke Gallery of quality 11 x 14
poster and prints, with or without frames.

| go to poster for ARCHAIC TORSO OF APOLLO |
| go to the poster for THE GAZELLE |

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stream if you'd like timely updates

| view / print Picture/Poem Poster: The Gazelle (86 K) | or download as PDF |

| see also the Rilke Posters |

| listen to other recordings in English and German of twelve poems from
The Book of Images
at The Rilke Download Page  
(# Includes instructions) |
See other recent additions of new English translations of
Rilke's poetry, together with
featured photographs at:

(29) April: Willow Spring

(28) April: A Light too Bright to Bear

See also a selection of recent Picture/Poem "Rilke in translation" features at the Rilke Archive.

See also another website
by Cliff Crego:
The Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke
a presentation of 80 of the
best poems of Rilke in
both German and
new English translations
biography, links, posters


"Straight roads,
Slow rivers,
Deep clay."
A collection of contemporary Dutch poetry
in English translation, with commentary
and photographs
by Cliff Crego

| back to Picture/Poems: Central Display |
Photograph/Texts of Translations © 1999 - 2011 Cliff Crego

V.6.2001) (revised: IV.21.2002, II.19.2011)