Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rilke's 'Rose' Poems in Translation, Continued

The above is one of the famous rose designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Scottish artist, designer and architect who worked in the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements.

I've translated two more of Rilke's French poems from the Roses sequence. I am finding the attempt to preserve some kind of rhyme scheme rather challenging; part of me feels that if I can't do the rhyme scheme just as it was in the original, I shouldn't bother. I have not quite made up my mind about this yet but I think I will continue for now with the partial rhyme scheme.

Again, I have included my translations and the originals below.

THE ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from French by Clarissa Aykroyd)


You, oh rose, perfect in excellence,
infinite in completeness
and infinitely open, head
of a body absent by its sweetness,

nothing can match you, supreme essence
of this floating daydream;
love's moment where we stay still,
through which your perfume streams.


I believe it was we who told you
to fill your chalice.
Enchanted by this artifice,
your beauty dared to do it.

You were rich enough to become yourself
one hundred times in a single flower;
this is the lover's condition...
But you did not think to look elsewhere.



Rose, toi, ô chose par excellence complète
qui se contient infiniment
et qui infiniment se répand, ô tête
d’un corps par trop de douceur absent,

rien ne te vaut, ô toi, suprême essence
de ce flottant séjour;
de cet espace d’amour où à peine l’on avance
ton parfum fait le tour.


C’est pourtant nous qui t’avons proposé
de remplir ton calice.
Enchantée de cet artifice,
ton abondance l’avait osé.

Tu étais assez riche, pour devenir cent fois toi-même
en une seule fleur;
c’est l’état de celui qui aime...
Mais tu n’as pas pensé ailleurs.

Translations © Clarissa Aykroyd. Not to be reproduced without permission


  1. Oh I do love Rennie MacKintosh. I very much like your translation, though I don't have French so I'm not able to compare it. I have a small collection of Akhmatova poems, can't remember who the translator is but they kept the rhymes and in my opinion it doesn't remotely compare to the same poems in my Complete Akhmatova collection translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, who doesn't preserve the rhyme scheme.

  2. Thank you! It is really difficult to make the appropriate decisions for translation. I have very little translation experience so I am really just experimenting at the moment. I think with something like rhyme scheme it is good to preserve it IF it doesn't involve unnaturally forcing or twisting the poem in other respects. I suppose free verse is "easier" in that particular regard. I was very wary of translated poetry for many years, but I have a growing interest in it now and I really feel that above all it's about dialogue, interchange and learning - between the translator and the work, the translator and the poet/the poet's intentions...etc. It is such a fascinating and challenging area and it's good that most people who get involved have a genuine passion, because let's face it, almost anything to do with poetry is a niche area and not particularly lucrative...