Work in Progress

I wanted to share something about what I am presently doing in terms of literary work.Whereas previously I had often lived in the space created by one language, my space is now always bilingual, whereby I have recently found it very easy to translate poetry into English. I have translated two songs from Soviet movies, one is fully translated, another (The Island of Bad Luck) is a work in progress. With both, I am trying to not merely translate the text, but to also preserve the rhythmic structure. I am inspired by the work by Marshak, whose rendering of Burns’s poem used in Hello, I Am Your Aunt! is so true to the original rhythm that the original poem can be sung to the film’s music.

Most importantly, I have started working on translating Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Beholder (Der Schauende). It was already genuinely translated into Russian in 1961 by Boris Pasternak, and, rather than trying to contest his translation, I draw inspiration from it to produce an English rendering of Der Schauende. If I give you a few lines, you will understand why it is now that I am working on this poem.

Wie ist das klein, womit wir ringen,
was mit uns ringt, wie ist das groß;
ließen wir, ähnlicher den Dingen,
so vom großen Sturm bezwingen, –
wir würden weit und namenlos. 

Was wir besiegen, ist das Kleine,
und der Erfolg selbst macht uns klein.
Das Ewige und Ungemeine
will nicht von uns gebogen sein. 

From an existing non-rhythmic English translation by Robert Bly (found at Wellspring by Larry Clark):

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.

I’m also interested in translating this poem because the motive expressed there corresponds well with my current work on revising and reviving my German. I can only subdue to the Time and Effort, meaning that, just as it took me a few years to perfect either English or French, it will also take something to get me to once again have a decent command of German. In the words of Rilke,

Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
Sein Wachstum ist: der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu sein. 

(Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,

by constantly greater beings.)

Last but not least, occasionally before when I announced my plans to do something, I somehow ended up either not doing it at all, or doing it with a considerable delay. I detest the situation, but the only way to change it is to declare plans and stick to them. I guess I shall be taking myself upon my own word here.

5 thoughts on “Work in Progress”

  1. WOW … thank you for this post.

    I've been having problems with a new ISP, so haven't been on the internet much for the last few days. Your research is admirable, Julia. I had no idea Pasternak had translated Rilke. Fabulous! Good luck with your own translation of 'Der Schauende'. I hope you'll blog about it some more and post the end result. I *really* need to brush up my Russian.

    I love your blog, but you probably already know that 🙂

  2. Carola, spasibo bolshoe – I'd like to never really know how much people love what I do for them and with them, lest I ever lose interest in doing it!!!

    You know, as it happens, I needed time for Pasternak's version to get under my skin. But he really does a great job translating this Rilke's poem.

    Perhaps, the most notable Russian translator of Rilke, Heidegger, and Hölderlin is Vyacheslav Kuprianov. At least, he's translated a lot from Friedrich Hölderlin.

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