Paraphrases of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus
1 (1.2)

Und fast ein Mädchen wars und ging hervor

The magic from his chorded lyre
emerged with feminine delicacy
radiant throu the veil of vernal
freshness, and nestled soft within

my ear - her sleep a world of healing.
The mysterious wood remote
yet ever-present, the living meadow -
all these and everything enthralled me.

Aware in her sleeping beauty, how
-O singing god- did she not crave
her own consciousness? Yet see –

she stands, an undying muse whom you
must now invent before she flies as
sun on dew - so nearly human.

2 (1.3)

Ein Gott vermags. Wie aber, sag mir, soll

For a god it’s easy
but how shall I, mere man, fly out
between the lyre’s narrow strings?
Duality traps my mind –

no temple for Apollo
whose song, rich as time, differs
from my half-hearted ballads. Easy
for him – but for us …?

Whose are the careless stars?
Are they youth’s, with parted lips?
Or is their sudden song

heard only when time is past –
a deeper breath singing throu us,
the air a trembling god?

3 (1.4)

Oihr Zärthlichen, tretet zuweilen

So my soft darling, step occasionally
into this little-heeding breath of mine;
let me shudder as you stroke my cheek,
leave me glowing as you pass beyond.

O holy one, O blessed wholeness,
envoy of the heart’s voyage,
bow for my arrow, my arrows’ target …
ever-loving tear-stained smile.

Take no notice of your present suffering.
Lay your heaviness with the earth –
Can you weigh the mountains or the ocean?

Even the trees you planted as saplings
have long since grown too heavy for you to bear.
Ah, but that breeze …

4 (1.12)

Heil dem Geist, der uns verbinden mag;

Hail to the Spirit that unites us –
for are we not two: self and shadow self?
Can you hear the escapement ticking off
the seconds from our allotted timespan?

Uncertain of our true place in the world
we still seek truth in our relationships
and using sixth sense intuition find
others of like mind amid the chaos.

Balance of probabilities, tension of
opposites - this is the natural world’s
harmony drowning out our transient fears.

For all a farmer’s work and worry the seed
will ripen to a harvest - even if
he never lives to see the soil’s gift.

5 (1.17)

Zu unterst de Alte, verworrn,

Beneath all, the primordial roots
gnarled and tangled in the earth
supporting the broad-leafed canopy
unseen and secret source of life.

Helmet and huntsman’s horn, ancient
wisdom of a desperate race,
men in savage harmony,
their women-folk fair as lutes,

branches springing from crowded trunk
all linked in one unending chain
save one … climb, o climb

even as they break – climb
to the very topmost which
at last bows to form a lyre.

6 (1.24)

Sollen wir unsere uralte Freundschaft, die grossen

Shall we reject those ageless companions of our youth,
the great and undemanding gods, because the systems
we are now creating cannot be programmed
to recognize them? Where are they in our modern schemes,

these powerful friends who silently take the dead from us?
They are outside our busy materialistic world.
We no longer gather at the ancient places
and their messengers, now too slow, we bypass.

Lonelier now, wholly dependent on ourselves
yet not knowing one another, we no longer
tread the twisting paths but rush straight ahead.

Only in nuclear reactors now the old forces
still operate unchallenged, driving us into a future
wherein we, mere humans, diminish in scale and power.

7 (2.3)

Spiegel: noch nie hat man wissend beschriebren,

Mirror - never yet has one who truly knows
reached into the heart of your mystery –
that interstellar space where certainty evaporates
and we find only what reflects our preconceptions:

You - who squander the silences of the empty hall
when twilight steals into you from the naked woods,
until some dazed admirer lights the glittering lustre
of a chandelier in your impenetrable depths.

Sometimes you’re choked with beauty like a painting,
occasionally it seems you truly are one,
elsetimes you let reflexions slip right throu you.

Yet ever within your haunting depths remains a sleeping
beauty, pure until your dream-Narcissus comes
to plant an awakening kiss upon your virgin cheek.

8 (2.10)

Alles Erworbne bedroht die Maschine, solange

All our gains the machine now threatens.
Once our servant it now drives us.
Where we cherished craftsmanship
now its just cheapskate joinery.

No part of modern life’s untouched.
Quietly ticking in the corner of
a factory which it plans to take over
machinery watches, pulses, explodes.

Yet still to us existence is
enchanted, pure as once in Eden -
who can feel it and not kneel?

As we sense its meaning language
fades away to music, and the
fragile temple forms within us.

9 (2.23)

Rufe mich zu jener deiner Stunden,

Call me into that within your life
which most resists you - when inspiration fails
as most you need it, when feelings will not flow,
or when you think youve won another’s heart

only to find it suddenly withdrawn.
What is denied is yours for ever.
Now youre free. For what youd hoped to grasp
can only be possessed if you release it.

O how hard it is to trust our feelings,
we who are too young for what is old,
too old for what may never have existed -

each minute vulnerable as new-born infants,
we are also the yeoman’s axe, fulfilment,
and the sweet ambivalence of danger.

10 (2.26)

Wie ergreift uns der Vogelschrei

The cry of a curlew echoes in the mind.
Any sound once uttered lasts for ever -
even children playing in the open
air are heard for all eternity.

Randomly sounds enter that half lit gap
between reality and dream: the curlew’s
song is audible in interstellar space
down the tubes and worm-holes of time.

Alas, where are we in all of this?
Ever freer, soaring like runaway kites
in the clear sky, our fluttering edges

a half-heard laughter. Create meaning in this
you singing god - that our heads awaken
to the current connecting the heart and the lyre.

11 (2.27)

Gibt es wirklich die Zeit, die zerstörende?

The mystery at the heart of time:
Why now, on the sleeping hill,
falls the castle - or this heart of mine
besieged by a stormier will?

The vulnerablity of childhood
is the source of later joy,
the heart a fountain of wild blood
dancing unpredictably.

Among us transient spectres pass,
clouding our lives like smoky glass -
we are both viewers and the viewed:

beyond the pane we sometimes glimpse,
seeing the mighty gods as pimps
and we their wretched livelihood.

Among us transient spectres pass,
clouding our lives like smoking grass -
to some we’re monarchs, some we’re chattels:
beyond the haze we sometimes see
-sometimes at sword-point, sometimes free-
our value to the gods as cattle.

12 (2.29)

Stiller Freund der vielen Fern, fühle,

Silent companion of the endless spaces
feel your breath expand the lonely night -
your-self the bell you toll in shadowy belfries
to celebrate the dawning of the light.

You are at once the soil and the seed -
your business is with transformation.
What are the areas of your greatest need?
See in them the source of your salvation.

At darkest point of night, to find your power
to generate the dawn you must locate
the crossroads of your senses and their signature;
and if, friendless within this strange encounter,
you feel yourself forgotten, dedicate
to earth your flow - your inmost self to water.

Translated 2000

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