Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rilke's French Roses In Translation, IX, X and XI

Rose photo © Christina Kosaki, 2013.

Here are my latest translations of the next three poems in Rainer Maria Rilke's French Roses poems, with the originals as well.

These all presented their own difficulties. I thought IX came out quite well but I was bewildered by the phrase "déconcertante de son interne paix". I called on some of my Frenchies for help, who first told me that the grammar was incorrect, then tried to help, but we all had a hard time with it. Consulting other English translations didn't help much either. I may revise again later (as I plan to eventually do with the whole sequence) - I was happy enough with the sound of the phrase I chose, but am not sure if it is a correct reflection of meaning.

X was probably the most successful translation of these three, on the whole. XI looked deceptively simple - which made it hard. I was almost totally unable to impose rhyme, for instance - that would probably have resulted in a major distortion of meaning and I didn't want to make that choice.

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


Rose, aflame and yet clear,
that should be named here
the shrine of Saint Rose..., dispensing the faint,
unsettling scent of an unclothed saint.

Rose never again tempted, disturber
of its inner peace; last of all lovers,
so far from Eve and her first awaking - ,
rose, this loss forever possessing.


Friend of hours where no one lingers,
where all is denied to the bitter heart;
consoling witness of the most tender
caresses, airborne, near and far.

If we renounce life, if we deny
what once was and what could yet be,
we never think of the insistent ally
who beside us does its work of fantasy.


I'm so aware of your being,
absolute rose,
that my consent confounds you
as my heart rejoices.

I breathe you in as though you were,
rose, all existence,
and I feel myself the perfect friend
of such a friend.

LES ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke)


Rose, toute ardente et pourtant claire,
que l'on devrait nommer reliquaire
de Sainte-Rose..., rose qui distribue
cette troublante odeur de sainte nue.

Rose plus jamais tentée, déconcertante
de son interne paix; ultime amante,
si loin d'Eve, de sa première alerte - ,
rose qui infiniment possède la perte.


Amie des heures où aucun être ne reste,
où tout se refuse au coeur amer;
consolatrice dont la présence atteste
tant de caresses qui flottent dans l'air.

Si l'on renonce à vivre, si l'on renie
ce qui était et ce qui peut arriver,
pense-t-on jamais assez à l'insistante amie
qui à coté de nous fait son oeuvre de fée.


J'ai une telle conscience de ton
être, rose complete,
que mon consentement te confond
avec mon coeur en fête.

Je te respire comme si tu étais,
rose, toute la vie,
et je me sens l'ami parfait
d'une telle amie.

Translations © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2013.  


  1. Clarissa,

    I'm always excited when I see that you have posted new "Roses"!! I think your versions are my favorites of these very hard to translate poems -- certainly, to my ear, clearer and more musical than A. Poulin's in The Collected French Poems. I hope we will see them published someday:-)

    I think I like X best of these three. The rhymes work very well, which is no small thing. And I admire the "insistent ally" and "its work of fantasy," which avoids the danger of entangling us in talk of fairies....

    A couple of small points, though you may well be tired of opinions:

    In IX, it seems to be that the phrase "déconcertante / de son interne paix" must refer to the rose's "inner peace," which we find "unsettling". I agree the grammar is a bit wonky, but nothing else quite makes sense. Something like, "unsettling because of its inner peace"? (Not that I would suggest that exact wording....)

    In XI, I would be inclined to read "mon consentement te confound / avec mon coeur en fête" as "my consent confounds you with my rejoicing heart." That is, my heart and the rose seem to be one thing, rather than simply occurring at the same time....

    I hope you don't mind the discussion. It is just that these poems are hard to resist.


    1. Thanks James! Your kind comments mean a lot to me. As I don't have a lot of translation experience I initially started working on these mainly as exercises so I am really glad that people are enjoying them. Who knows, maybe I will publish them eventually :) To be honest, I'm not that crazy about the Poulin translations either. They seem a bit overly literal and clunky to me.

      I really appreciate your suggestions too, and welcome any you might have. On reflection I think you're probably right about that tricky phrase in IX. I went back and forth on that one...! I think that in XI also where you've pointed out a possible confusion, the grammar is a bit puzzling. (Even my French friends were a bit confused by IX...)

      I'm going to be doing more revision at a later point, I think, so will be letting these stand warts and all as first/second drafts for now...

  2. Clarissa Aykroyd, I think you did a fantastic job of translating those verses. I love the passion that you have for poetry. One of the things that will always stand out in my memory of when I studied in France was the incredibly beautiful rose gardens that are there. I could literally sleep in those parks just so that I could fall asleep and wake up to the intoxicating sent of these beautiful flowers. I hope I can go there again some day just to smell those roses.
    Robert Pap

    1. Thanks so much, Rob... I think these are remarkably evocative poems, it's indeed a bit like being in a French rose garden! Read as a sequence, they make me think of someone examining roses lovingly in close-up, concentrating on different aspects.

      I had another thought about translation. I used to ride horses and you develop a feel through your hands of when to rein the horse in a little, when to release and give it more power, so to speak. I feel like that's the balancing act with translation. Sometimes you rein in, sometimes you let go - it's an intuitive back-and-forth.