Three Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875 to a German-speaking family.  As soon as he was able, he left home and spent his life jumping between numerous locations: Spain, Russia, Northern Germany, Paris, Italy, among others.  He finally landed in a small country chateau nestled in the vineyards of Switzerland where he lived until his death in 1926.

 

Three Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke

from the series Quatrains Valaisans [Valaisian Quatrains]

translated from the French by Susanne Petermann

 

30

 

Au lieu de s’évader,

ce pays consent à lui-même;

ainsi il est doux et extrême,

menacé et sauvé.

 

Il s’adonne avec ferveur

à ce ciel qui l’inspire;

il excite son vent et attire

par lui la plus neuve primeur

 

de cette inédite

lumière d’outre-mont:

l’horizon qui hésite

lui arrive par bonds.

 

30

 

Rather than escaping,

this land accepts itself;

thus it is gentle and harsh,

vulnerable and saved.

 

Fervently it gives itself

to its inspiration, the sky;

it arouses the wind, attracting

the newest and freshest

 

of that unedited light

from beyond the mountains:

the reluctant horizon

approaches, leaping.

33

 

Ce ciel qu’avaient contemplé

ceux qui le loueront

pendant l’éternité:

bergers et vignerons,

 

serait-il par leurs yeux

devenu permanent,

ce beau ciel et son vent,

son vent bleu?

 

Et son calme après,

si profond et si fort,

comme un dieu satisfait

qui s’endort.

 

33

 

Could it be that shepherds

and growers of wine,

contemplating the sky

and praising it eternally,

 

make it more permanent

with their eyes,

this fair sky and its wind,

its blue wind?

 

And its calm afterward,

so heavy and so deep,

like a satisfied god

falling asleep.

35

 

Au ciel, plein d’attention,

ici la terre raconte;

son souvenir la surmonte

dans ces nobles monts.

 

Parfois elle paraît attendrie

qu’on l’écoute si bien—

alors elle montre sa vie

et ne dit plus rien.

 

35

 

In this place the earth tells her story

to a sky full of attention;

the strength of her memory shapes her

into these noble mountains.

 

Sometimes she seems moved

that we listen so well—

when we do, she reveals her life

and then says nothing else.

37: CIEL VALAISAN

 

Comment notre coeur lorsqu’il vibre

a-t-il tant besoin

que tout un ciel de loin

lui donne des conseils d’équilibre.

 

Mais ce ciel depuis toujours

a de nos cris l’habitude;

ami de la terre rude,

il en adoucit le contour.

 

37: VALAISIAN SKY

 

When our heart is aroused

it is full of desire

to be shown what is balance

by the whole broad sky.

 

But the sky has known

our sorrows forever;

friend of the rugged earth,

smoothing out her contours.

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