O Leben Leben - Need English Translation

Von den frühen Prager Gedichten über Cornet, Neue Gedichte, Sonette und Elegien bis zum lyrischen Grabspruch

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Beitrag von gliwi » 15. Mai 2003, 00:06

Ja, ich bin noch da, aber mit meinem bisschen Schulenglisch kann ich hier nicht mithalten, sondern nur staunen, wie Ihr euch als Nicht-Native-Speakers in der Sprache Shakespeares bewegt. Gedichte aus der eigenen in eine fremde Sprache zu übersetzen ist m.E. der gipfel der Übersetzungskunst. Gruß Ch. :shock:

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Beitrag von Marie » 15. Mai 2003, 10:33

Hallo Christiane, :D

schön mal wieder ein Lebenszeichen von dir zu haben. Ich muss dir allerdings widersprechen: Es ist mehr der "Gipfel" der Dreistigkeit sich an die Übersetzungen zu wagen! Aber es ist auch eine Herausforderung und Abwechslung. Im Übrigen bemühe ich (und Volker, gib's zu, du doch auch!) dabei emsig mein Wörterbuch (und meinen Mann, von Beruf Englischlehrer- deswegen sind in meinen Morgen-Texten auch mehr Fehler als abends, wenn er mal drüber schauen kann!)
Wenn dir etwas zu den Gedichten ein fällt, schreibe es ruhig entweder in gutem Deutsch oder schlechtem Englisch - gemeinsam kriegen wir das schon irgendwie so zu Linda transportiert, dass sie weiß, was gemeint ist.
So lange man nicht auch in einer fremden Sprache träumt, hat man sie auch nicht "im Blut", aber die Kommunikation funktioniert ja offensichtlich auch so!

Liebe Grüße M.

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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 15. Mai 2003, 21:27

Hi Volker,

You wrote:

<Widerspruch = contradiction, alright.
... zu Widerspruche is dative case, same like "im Gange" (You could also say "im Gang"). But the "e" isn't used anymore in everyday speech. >

See, I told you my German isn't very good! I had forgotten that "zu" takes the dative case. I really need to go back and review my German books before attempting translation, but there aren't enough hours in the day!

Liebe Grüße,


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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 16. Mai 2003, 14:41

Hi Marie,

Wow! That's awesome that your husband is an English teacher. No wonder your English is so good!

Liebe Grüße,


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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 16. Mai 2003, 21:50

Hi Volker,

I hope you got the two English poems I sent to you. They didn't show up in my "sent box" afterwards so I wasn't sure. Let me know if you didn't receive them.

Liebe Grüße,


P.S. Could you give me some other ideas for the "greeting line?" I have no idea what is appropriate and in which cases, so I've just been using what I have seen a couple of others use.

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Thank You

Beitrag von Volker » 16. Mai 2003, 23:24

Hi Linda,

Yes, I did receive your poems. Thank you so much. I read them quickly once at first. They're wonderful. Especially the Dickinson poem has that kind of "music" I like. I'll have to read it or rather work through it with more time later (Yes, Marie, I do have to look up some words in the dictionary too!)
I'll revert with comments/questions later in a personal message to you, Linda.
I'll also revert with some of my favourites from Goethe and Hölderlin (actually, I'm more a Hölderlin than a Rilke "Fan").:wink:

Don't worry about the greeting line. Anything you use will be well understood. OK, if you really do want to know my opinion:
"Liebe Grüße" is very personal, almost intimate. Will be used by people who know each other well and like each other.
"Viele Grüße" marks a less personal but still very friendly tone.
"Beste Grüße" is even less personal, could be used by anybody.
"Mit freundlichen Grüßen" - formal, used in business letters.
"Gruß!" has a casual, informal tone but lacks any personal involvement.
There are many more possibilities.

By the way: I also have a hard time when I have to choose a greeting line in English. Maybe you can come up with some hints.
(What about if I try "Best regards!) :?: :?: :?:
Ich hab' auch Verstand.©
gez. Volker

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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 17. Mai 2003, 02:30

Hi Volker,

Glad you liked the poems. I really like Emily Dickinson too. I forgot to mention that she lived from 1830-1886, so many of the words she uses are no longer in use today. I even had to look up a couple of words myself. I'd never heard of "tippet" or "tulle." Also, don't know if you're familiar with the word "recess" but in this instance it is talking about the time after lunch or in between classes when children are allowed to play (usually outside).

As far as greetings, things are usually pretty casual online. Many people only sign their name, and many don't even do that. Best wishes and Best regards are fine, but are probably even a little more formal than what most people would use online. For the British, "Cheers" would probably be a good choice, and for Americans perhaps "Take care," but as you said there are countless possibilities and just about everything goes these days!

I 'm really looking forward tor the Hölderin poems!

Bis bald, (how about that one - where does it fit in the categories?)

Linda :lol:

Ramaswamy S
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Re: O Leben Leben - Need English Translation

Beitrag von Ramaswamy S » 3. Nov 2004, 09:05

[quote="Rilke Fan"]Hallo,

I would greatly appreciate anyone's help in translating this poem (aus dem Nachlaß) into English.

(Volker -- if you're reading this, I promise I haven't even attempted to try to translate this one!)

Dear Rilke fan,
may I submit my attempt at translting the poem. As English & German are foreign languages to me, I am only suggesting an alternative. I do not improve upon Mr Volker's translation.I will be extremely thankful, if you could point out the mistakes therein.

O Life, Life, Strange Time
Passing through contradictions.
Often the gait so poor, heavy and slow
then suddenly, like an angel,
with wings spread immensly wide
O most indescribable, O lifetime.
Of all great and daring beings,
can one be bolder and brighter?
We stand and brace against our limits
and drag in an unknown

With warm regards!
Ich bin Student der Germanistik in Indien. Ich begeistere mich fuer Rudolf Kassner und Rilke und waere Ihnen herzlich dankbar, wenn Sie Ihre Rilke-Erfahrung mit mir teilen koennten.

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Beitrag von stilz » 3. Nov 2004, 14:18

Hallo, Linda, Ramaswamy, Volker, Marie...

I never would have thought I could ever be "so daring and so bold"... but there it is, I've tried to put together "my own" translation... (I'm an Austrian, and I picked up my English at school and by reading lots of books...)

I took many of Volker's lines, of course, and then there were some of Ramaswamy's I liked very much... but there are some things where I've come up with my own suggestions --- what do you all think of them?

I didn't want to interfere with Volker's first line, which I think is wonderful.

The second line... Ah, Marie: it's incóngruous, but incongrúity... I feel that by this means we could have a repetition that still doesn't sound too repetitive?

And then I liked Ramaswamy's gait which seems so much more beautiful than progress... I put in lingering, mostly because of the "music" ---
then again Volker - I love your widespread wings! - And I got rid of the brackets in resemb(e)ling, if there really is no such word any more, there certainly should be.

I personally like Volker's Cherubim, but still I put in the normal, non-upperclass Angel (but he has got a capital A, Marie, is that o.k. for you?)
Unexplicable somehow didn't feel right, but I had to look this up: it's inexplicable, but unexplainable.

Then again Volker... but I somehow didn't like existences, which is strange, as Rilke himself said "Existenzen" ---

For the last two lines I switched to Ramaswamy again, bracing against our limits is a wonderful phrase, even if I'm not really sure that it's "correct" --- however, wasn't it Goethe who said "Wer ruft mir?" ... so what!

And drag in is just the word for "Hineinreißen"...

So this is my favourite translation (and I know that my contributions really are minimal!):

O life, o life, o wondrous wondrous time
stretching between incongruous and incongruity
Often the gait so poor, so heavy, lingering
and suddenly with untold widespread wings
as if resembeling an Angel:
O unexplainable, o time of life. Of all the great and daring that exists
could any be more glowing and more bold?
We stand and brace against our limits
and drag inside unrecognizables.

Ganz liebe Grüße (You're right, Volker, that's rather intimate, but it is what I feel when "speaking" to people who like to devote time and energy to such themes...)


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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 5. Nov 2004, 06:17

Dear Ramaswamy and Stilz,

How exciting to receive two new translations in one day for this poem !! Thank you both so VERY, VERY much!!! :lol:

I am so happy that you are both interested in translating Rilke’s poetry into English! Until now, only Volker and Marie have been willing to put so much time and effort into helping me out with translations (and I am forever indebted to them!)

No matter how long I work at it, I never quite seem to be satisfied with my own translations. I always seem to find something to change each time I read them, so I need all the help I can get. The more translations of a poem, the better! I absolutely LOVE Rilke’s poetry because his thoughts are so “DEEP,” but unfortunately I have lost so much of my German over the years, that it is very difficult and time-consuming for me to translate his works.

So, let me begin with Ramaswamy. First of all, I must say that your choice of “strange” for “wunderlich” is really great. Somehow I can’t believe, that I didn’t make that connection with the word until I read your translation! Perhaps that’s because I really liked Volker’s choice of “wondrous” (Stilz’s as well), and thus I didn’t think any further. However, upon reading the poem again today, I honestly believe that Rilke probably had “both” of these definitions in mind, and thus I think I would actually choose to use both of them in the translation (even though it wouldn’t be a literal translation, of course).

It is always difficult to decide whether to go with a literal translation or to try to use words that more clearly convey the poet’s presumed meaning of his chosen words. Of course, this is something that would normally be left to individual interpretation, but unfortunately when it comes to translation, the words of a foreign language often do not translate into words that lead to the correct interpretation, and thus, a translator must often choose words, which help express the meaning of the poem and also make sense in the language it is being translated into. Thereby, of course, you often lose so much, and this is the great tragedy of translating poetry. It is for this reason that I always try to come up with as many translations as possible for a poem, preferably at least one of which is literal!

In the second line, Ramaswamy, “Passing through contradictions” is also very good, even though I don’t really have a problem with using the more repetitive, but literal translation which would be “from contradiction to contradiction.”

I’m not really content with the third line from any of the translations, although I haven’t been able to figure out anything better myself! Although “the gait” (and even Volker’s “in progress” ) is probably a pretty good translation, still I feel there must be something that would work better. Even though this line is very clear to me in the German, I find it very difficult to translate into English. I thought of saying something like: “Often it goes so badly....,” but that doesn’t work well with the rest of the line (“so schwer, so schleichend.)” I think “schwer” is best translated as either “hard” or “difficult” and “so schleichend” perhaps as “so slowly creeping” or “creeping so slowly,” but those translations don’t seem to go with the first half of my translation of the sentence, so still no solution there.

I prefer the choice of “angel” rather than “cherubim” which sounds more biblical. “Like an angel” sounds good, and Stilz, your “resembling an angel” works well too. I also thought of perhaps saying “like those of an angel.” It’s purely a matter of preference.

Your choice of the words “with wings spread immensely wide” in line 5 was a nice alternative, Ramaswamy, especially the word “immensely,” although I have to admit I still love Volker’s use of “widespread wings.”

A few words for Stilz, now, and then I’ll come back to the remainder of the poem from this point on. First, let me say how much I appreciate your input, Stilz, and it is only with great reluctance that I have to admit that I don’t quite see how it would be possible to substitute the words“incongruous” or “incongruity” for “contradiction.” I think you might possibly be confusing these words with some other word, although it’s entirely possible that I may be forgetting my English, as well as my German!

Line 3 as I mentioned above is very difficult. If I were going to use the words “gait” or “progress,” I think I would start the sentence by saying “The gait is often...” or “The progress is often....” but the problem is, I don’t really like the choice of the word “poor,” and my choice of words for “schlecht,” which would be “bad” or “badly,” doesn’t work in this case. Perhaps one of us will be able to come up with something else. I do like your choice of “lingering,” although I’m not sure how well it fits with the other two descriptive words.

And now we come to line 6, another line which is almost impossible to translate literally because of the word “Existenzen” which doesn’t work in the plural form in English. And Ramaswamy, please forgive me, but I don’t really think “beings” could be used in place of “existence(s).” “Of all the great and daring” is a good translation for the first part of the sentence, but the problem is, you then have to use existence in the plural form, and thus this sentence has to be reworded somewhat in English. The only way around this problem that I can figure out would be to say something like: “What great and daring existence could be any brighter and bolder?”

And then come the last two lines and more problems. I’m not familiar with the German word stemmen. In fact, I’m not even sure if the word is “anstemmen” or “stemmen.” I found both in the my German dictionary but didn’t know which one is correct in this sentence, probably because I’ve forgotten so much of my German grammar. I feel like “brace” might be close to what Rilke means, as to “brace oneself” but the word “against” doesn’t sound right in this context. You hear the word “brace” used in English in instances like “brace yourself for the storm,” and you might even brace yourself against something like a door, but not something less tangible, like your limits or “limitations” which I think is probably a better choice of words for “Grenzen” in this case. I also wondered if the word “embrace” would work, but before I can translate this line correctly, I need to know exactly what this word “stemmen” or “anstemmen” means. Perhaps someone can explain to me what they think Rilke is trying to say in this sentence. I am thinking that perhaps he means something like the word “resist,” but it is all very unclear to me.

“Drag in an unknown” is an interesting choice, Ramaswamy, and I see you liked Volker’s choice of “unrecognizables,” Stilz! I didn’t mention it earlier, but Volker chose to create a new English word by turning an adjective into a noun, which is what Rilke did in the German text, I think. That is to say, I don’t think “Unkenntliches” was a word in German before Rilke, was it? “Unrecognizables,” needless to say, sounds very strange to the ear in English, but perhaps no more so than “Unkenntliches” or?

What do you think about saying something like the following for the last two lines?

“We stand and resist our limitations
and grasp something unrecognizable.”

As alternatives to the last line, what do you think?

And tear in something unrecognizable.
And tear something unrecognizable inside.
And seize something unrecognizable.
And grab something unrecognizable.

Although I think I like Volker’s more literal translation of “tear inside” better, I chose “grasp” because it could have a double meaning in this instance meaning both to “grab, seize, or tear in” (something), AS WELL as to “comprehend” it, which I think may very possibly be just what Rilke is trying to say.

Am I correct in assuming that with the use of the word “herein,” this sentence implies that something from “outside” (of ourselves) is torn “inside” or perhaps just “in?” I’m not sure in this case whether the literal translation for “herein” would be “in” or “inside.”

I sincerely hope I haven’t discouraged either of you from any further attempts, :roll: because I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate your translations, and I am very hopeful that there will be more to come in the future, because there are lots of other Rilke poems I would love to have help with!

Also, I wish that others in the forum wouldn’t be so shy or afraid to offer their translations or suggestions. I’m not looking for perfection! And if a complete translation is too large of an endeavor, any comments or suggestions regarding existing translations would also be welcomed. After all, you never know when you might be able to think of just the perfect word that none of the rest of us have been able to find.

Vielen, vielen Dank to everyone!! :lol:


Ramaswamy S
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Beitrag von Ramaswamy S » 7. Nov 2004, 12:37

Dear Linda, Stilz and Volker
Thank you very much for your detailed analysis. All the points you have made are well taken. English & German being foreign languages to me , I translated mostly by guess-work. I have no idea how German/English native speakers understand these lines.

What about the following alternative to lines 7-8?

Of all that exists, bold and great,
is any one more brave and bright?

Could you please suggest more poems for translation? Why can't we invite interpretations too, for it deepens our understanding of the text?

With Love

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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 8. Nov 2004, 22:19

Hi Ramaswamy, (Stilz, and Volker),

I’m so glad to hear back from you, Ramaswamy. I was afraid that I might have discouraged you or hurt your feelings with my comments. (Stilz, the same goes for you, and I hope to hear back from you also!)

Ramaswamy, your suggestion is great, and I especially like the first line.

Of all that exists, bold and great,
is any one more brave and bright?

However, without a designated noun (such as “existence”), it is unclear what the word “one” is referring to, so it would have to be replaced with something else like “anything.”

Of all that exists, bold and great,
Could anything be more brave and bright?

As another alternative, I suppose we could use “living things” in place of “existence(s)” (even though I don’t like it as well) and say something like,

Of all living things, bold and great,
Could any be more brave and bright?

I will look through my Rilke books for suggestions for other translations. I know there are a lot I would love to have help with. For a while, I was spending a lot of time reading Rilke’s poetry, which I just love, but lately I’ve gotten sidetracked with the study of philosophy. Your suggestion for interpretation would also be wonderful!

By the way, your English is excellent!!!! I was just reading your response to the posting with the poem "Eingang," and I was very impressed with your interpretation . How wonderful it was for me that your response was in English!! I will comment more at that particular posting. Meanwhile, hope to hear from you again soon!

Stilz, your English is also great, so please don’t hesitate to join us with more translations and interpretations! By the way, I forgot to mention last time that you are completely right about the words inexplicable and unexplainable. It’s one of those strange quirks in English!

And Volker, even though we worked on this poem a long time ago, if you are not currently at sea again, I’d love to hear any new ideas you might have concerning all of this. However, since we haven’t already heard from you by now, I have a feeling you might be on a ship in some exotic place again!!

Best wishes to all!!

Linda (Rilke Fan)

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Beitrag von stilz » 9. Nov 2004, 12:04

Dear Linda and everybody else,

thank you for your comments, of course I'm not discouraged or hurt!!!

First I want to clarify the "stemmen":

Linda, you say it would be possible to brace against a door, but not against anything less tangible --- well, that is exactly the same with the word stemmen: it is quite normal to stem against a door if it doesn't open easily, or you might stem against a brick wall. Rilkes choice of this word in the context with "Grenzen" seems to picture the effort that we often put in our attempts to widen or even break them (in German there is a phrase "die Grenzen sprengen", which means something like "blast").
That's why I like Ramaswamy's "brace" so much!

I very much appreciate the idea of translating and interpreting and plan to write much more, when I have time.

Liebe Grüße!

Ingrid (stilz)

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Beitrag von Rilke Fan » 9. Nov 2004, 21:36

Hi Ingrid,

Thanks so much for your explanation. I am very anxious to hear more! I am so excited to have finally found two more "Rilke Fans" who are willing to correspond in English! :lol:

Can't wait to hear more from you, as well as Ramaswamy, and anyone else!!

Liebe Grüße!