An SFnalish mistranslation of Part 1:I from Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus

WHM (mis)translates the first sonnet in Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus: “A tree of immense clarity arose. One made of bard songs.”

photo of the painting Beech Tree by Achille-Etna Michallon
Beech Tree by Achille-Etna Michallon; Thaw Collection, Jointly Owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Eugene V. Thaw, 2009

A tree of immense clarity arose. One made of bard songs. A tall tree for tall tales.

The tree arose and the world went quiet. The kind of quiet from which proceeds hints and signs, inceptions and transformations.

Mythic beasts nosed their way into this quiet out of languid forest dens and sleepy mountain aeries. The urge to bellow, to shriek, to growl, to roar had shriveled in their hearts. They all foreswore that they creep softly about not from fear or trickery but so that they may listen.

This was a time where existed scarcely a hovel to receive the quiet the tree had ushered into the world. No lair of darkest desires whose threshold trembled in response to the great silence. And so you felled the tree and raised from it a great hall in which to recite your verse.

Note on the translation: this is not even close to a faithful translation. For one, it’s prose and not poetry. For another, I drop the the mention of Orpheus that is central to the context of the entire project and switch some of the allusions to a different context entirely. For another, I interpolate all over the place. But the feeling of it—that I hope to have preserved/conveyed. Also: I have yet to read an English translation that deals well with the final stanza. Switching to prose allowed me a bit more freedom to turn it into something of a narrative.   

The original German version (as well as the rest of the sonnets in the cycle) can be found at Project Gutenberg DE