With my relatively recent interest in translated poetry in full flower, I decided that I'd like to try translating Rilke's French poems on roses (see what I did there?). I've only recently become aware that Rilke wrote in French at all. These sequences of poems, which also include Les Quatrains Valaisans and Saltimbanques, are considered minor compared to his great German poems, but my initial impression is that they are beautiful. And I can translate from French, whereas I can't from German...
It has been about fifteen years since I have tried to translate poems. Then, it was mainly Baudelaire, I think, and at university. I admire Baudelaire but find him unpleasant, much as I admire Salvador Dali but find him unpleasant. So I am quite glad that Rilke wrote some French poems, too. Here I have translated the first two short poems in the sequence, which has more than twenty.
I have included both my English translations and the French originals, and constructive criticism is very welcome.
THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Clarissa Aykroyd)
If your freshness sometimes startles,
it's because within, deep inside,
petal on petal, you're in repose.
Awakened entity, whose centre
sleeps, while countless tendernesses lie
in touching layers, reaching out
from that silent heart, opening to the sky.
I see you, rose, half-open book,
holding so many pages
of so many happinesses
never read. Book of magic images,
opened by the wind, legible
with eyes closed...,
from which butterflies dart, confused
that their ideas are one with the rose.
Si ta fraîcheur parfois nous étonne tant,
toi-même, en dedans,
pétale contre pétale, tu te reposes.
tout éveillé, dont le milieu
dort, pendant qu'innombrables, se touchent
les tendresses de ce coeur silencieux
qui aboutissent à l'extrême
Je te vois, rose, livre entrebâillé,
qui contient tant de pages
qu'on ne lira jamais. Livre-mage,
qui s'ouvre au
vent et qui peut être lu
les yeux fermés...,
dont les papillons sortent
d'avoir eu les mêmes idées.
Translations © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2012. Not to be reproduced without permission