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Some translation, some rewriting
on October 15, 2003
Despite the glowing reviews, and my adoration of Mitchell's _The Book of Job_, I was disappointed by this book. First, I have previously heard poems from _The Book of Hours_ that sang to me, but there are only 2 fragments from that book included here. Second, the translations in places lose (to my ear) too much of the meaning and poetry of Rilke. Having just learned German and lived 10 days with Germans in Germany, I could tell that it was the translation--and not Rilke--that was lacking. Some of the translations are powerful and beautiful--if somewhat different from Rilke--namely, Spanish Dancer, Archaic Torso of Apollo, Washing the Corpse, Exposed on the cliffs of the heart, Antistrophes, Original Version of the 10th Elegy, Imaginary Career, and some Sonnets of Orpheus.
For too many of the other poems, though, there is more poetry in simply the sound of the German read aloud (absent of meaning) than in the content of the English version. Sometimes this may be because Mitchell is striving for a similar rhythm or rhyme as Rilke's; there are places, though, where this can not be the excuse. For example, in the idiot's song, Rilke has, literally, "Sometimes think I, I can no more--"
Manchmal glaub ich, ich kann nicht mehr--,
which Mitchell translates
Sometimes I think that I can't go on--,
which adds another (perhaps obvious) meaning, hitting the reader over the head -- and is _less_ rhythmic than the literal!
Or examine the last lines of "Buddha in Glory" from Rilke:
"denn ganz oben werden deine Sonnen / voll und gluhend umgedreht.
Doch in dir ist schon gegonnen, / was die Sonnen ubersteht."
Literally: "for quite above become your suns / full and glowing spinning round. / Yet in you is already begun / what overcame the suns."
For unsurmised reasons, Mitchell has changed "suns" to stars", and altered other meanings--to my comprehension, weakening it:
"a billion stars go spinning through the night, / blazing high above your head. / But in you is the presence that / will be, when all the stars are dead."