Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Earth wears us

Rilke’s poem “Not Poor” is an inspirational platform for this writing space. However, I do not intend to do nothing but analyze the poem.

But to continue for now, Inge tells me that in the original German, Rilke’s stanza that Macy and Barrows interpret as Earth weaving us together like roses and making of us a garland is a bit different. The sense in the original is that Earth can make of us (or them, the third person plural of the original: the broken ones) roses, and wear them like a talisman or charm. With due respect to Barrows and Macy for creating a poem that made sense to them (I admire anyone who takes on the translation of poems!), I love and prefer this picture of Earth adorning herself with us, crafted from our essential being. And not only that. She wears us as a signifier of something magical—creative and powerful. 

It is easy to feel that humans are paltry and pathetic ignoramuses when it comes to Earth’s ways. We’ve made such a mess. But what if who we really are, in our core, were an ornament to Earth and Life? So often I feel that it’s too late for this. But there is something beautifully seductive about imagining this conceit at the outset of a day. Can the talisman of a human rose (or a washed human stone) that Earth wears — me, this being I am — participate in how and what the Earth creates? It must be true, just as the inverse is true. And I don't just mean planting a garden of veggies, or flowers, or tending cows or chickens in a field.

I will post the original German text of “Not Poor” when Inge sends it to me. I cannot find it in German on my own, and I was impatient to continue writing.


Oops, shhh, it's supposed to be quiet in here.


  1. So, you could not give up blogging for long! :-)

    I also looked for the original text in German, without success. Yes, to translate poetry is worth a lot admiration, but must be a rather impossible task. The real meaning and understanding is one thing, but then comes the rhythm, the “music” of the language. The German language is often in many minds linked to recent history, often parodied, and may not sound nice on our ears. However, it can also be read softly, gently…. Looking forward to see the original.

    1. I appreciate your thoughts about the sounds of language, and the many aspects of poetry that need to be considered in translation. Creating a new poem is certainly necessary, more than simply a literal translation. I think it would be fun to try it, if only I knew another language so well as that.

  2. Yes, I like Inge's extra nuance that it's the Earth who's the boss, and she uses us benignly, even creatively. A pity we trample all over her.

    Peter — I so agree. We tend often to regard the mellifluous sounds of the Romance languages (above all French and Italian) as the most musical and easy on the ear. However, German can be the most beautiful of languages if you are attuned to it. (Similarly, Spanish may also sound "harsh" at first to the unaccustomed ear.)

    1. I am trying to recruit Inge to record this poem in German. She has a beautiful voice. If she is up for it, I'll post a link to it in podcast!

  3. PS Analyzing this poem eternally is alright by me, Ruth :-)

    1. This is good to know. But one day you may be sorry. :-)

  4. It's a great poem - and I didn't know it before. It's not the first Rilke I've found recently and what I've read is nudging me towards reading more.

    I based my blog on a phrase from a poem, too (Wallace Stevens, Men Made out of Words), which ends:

    The whole race is a poet that writes down
    The eccentric propositions of its fate.

    1. It sounds like it's in the stars for you to read more Rilke, Dominic. You might be interested to start with the blog Lorenzo and I ran for all of 2011, with 365 daily posts of Rilke readings—poems, and excerpts of letters:

      I am really glad to hear the source of your blog title, as I'd wondered about it. I have not read that Stevens, but he is a favorite of mine.

  5. Oh, I love this version which flips the whole usual thought I have about earth. I'm going to go think on and relish this- earth wears us like a talisman. Us. Can Inge tell us more? This is one of those things that changes everything!

    1. Mary, I see that the stream washing stones here has trickled over to Italy, and you have written a lovely hutain for DVerse poetry. How wonderful.

  6. jumped over from grandmother's to see the inspiration for her piece.....that is very cool...def like hte talisman thought she played off of...

    1. I like it too, and I feel a surge returning from her. Thanks, Brian.

  7. I truly would like to believe the Earth has many moments of bliss because we're here existing on and in her. I have heard that angels are envious of humans for all kinds of reasons. And why not Earth?! Maybe she knows there are many things she cannot do without us...and so OF COURSE she's wears us like a garland, lest SHE forgets why we'll here!

    1. I love this thought. And you give new meaning to that old song "Earth Angel." :-)

  8. should a translator try to make a good poem (whatever good means) or an accurate report of what the original says? (and is what a poem says a matter of the dictionary meaning of its words, or is it form or music or mood or some hard-to-define historical context?...) it isn't an either / or dilemma -- doing both at once would sure be nice :-) -- but when a translator has to make choices, where should the emphasis fall? (and translations are tissues of choices)

    the questions are unanswerable, of course. or the answer (still unsatisfactory, but perhaps best we can do) is to have a spectrum of versions of the original, all orbiting it like satellites and all bringing different aspects forward ... (unfortunately, as far as i know, barrows and macy's is the only complete translation into english of the book of hours)

    like you, i respond well to barrows and macy's version of this poem, without comparing it to the german. it is a "good" poem. like inge, i can see that they have departed from the original in ways that make a serious difference, and her note feels like a reclaiming of something lost. for those who, like me, can't respond to the original with anything like fluency, this dialog in the presence of the poem may be the closest approach we can make to the "real" rilke ....

    (btw, all of rilke's poetry in the original languages, and much of his prose, is available online at

    i'm glad you are back, ruth!!!! i am excited for this new space and look forward to discovering what happens here :-))

  9. herein lies a clue to how we might live a valuable life. i believe this is a clue, not only that language is a clue to understanding the whole of our existence (and i believe that it is) but our relationship with the earth is the necessary vehicle through which we live.

    sometimes you think it is too late. it is never too late, even if we are dying, and we are always dying. inside of this sentence, this sentiment, is our chance. (i remind myself and reprimand myself here.) a thread through everything rilke wrote, or the paltry bits that i've encountered in his vastness, (why are we not all hounded with rilke throughout our lifetimes - oh, i know a few of the answers to this) points to our relationship with the earth. relationship. relationship. we do not live on top of the earth and get to mine her. we are in a steady relationship with her, as we are in a steady relationship with god, which is essentially the same thing. (as i write this geese fly honking by my window!)

    if earth wears us as something magical, creative, and powerful, my god, it becomes more essentially our job to do better by her, doesn't it? not only do i prefer this translation, but i believe it strikes closer to what is at the heart of rilke and what should be at the heart of our quest for a more valuable life.

    i don't know that this speaks exactly what you write of here but i am in currently in love with rilke's ninth elegy. here, more on our relationship:

    Earth, is it not just this that you want: to arise
    invisibly in us? Is not your dream
    to be one day invisible? Earth! invisible!
    What is your urgent command, if not transformation?
    Earth, you darling, I will! Oh, believe me, you need
    no more of your spring-times to win me over: a single one,
    ah, one, is already more than my blood can endure.
    Beyond all names I am yours, and have been for ages.
    You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
    is Death, that friendly Death.
    Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
    are growing less.... Supernumerous existence
    wells up in my heart.



All responses are welcome.