Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Rilke's French Rose Poems In Translation: XII

John William Waterhouse, Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, 1909.

It is once again ages since I posted any translations of Rilke's Roses poems from the French, but I do mean to get back to them now. I have every intention of translating the whole cycle (please remind me that I said this.)

That said, I found XII particularly challenging. I really messed around with the line breaks and the number of lines - the latter, at least, is something I try not to do much. But this was the only way I could get it to work, somehow. This poem seems to contrast with many of the other poems in the cycle - it has a rather harsh and blunt tone, and sprawls down the page awkwardly (though probably deliberately). So I hope I haven't wreaked too much havoc.

As usual, I have included the French original after the English translation. And I'm very open to comments and suggestions. Part of the master plan is to revise these all at some point.

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


Rose, who are you fighting
with those thorns?
Did your fragile joy force
this change to a hostile thing?

Against whom does this weapon guard you?
How many enemies have I warned away
who feared it not at all?
Instead, through summer and autumn days,
you harm the hand that helps you.

LES ROSES (Rainer Maria Rilke)


Contre qui, rose,
avez-vous adopté
ces épines?
Votre joie trop fine
vous a-t-elle forcée
de devenir cette chose

Mais de qui vous protège
cette arme exagérée?
Combien d'ennemis vous ai-je
qui ne la craignaient point.
Au contraire, d'été en automne,
vous blessez les soins
qu'on vous donne.

Translation © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2014.


  1. This is difficult --- a thorny, unwelcoming poem that wounds the cares of a translator!!

    I think you've managed something really fine and elegant with the first stanza. I like it very much.

    I worry about the phrase "Combien d'ennemis vous ai-je / enlevés". It's an odd use of "enlever" that calls for interpretation. (A. Poulin tries to be more literal with "How many enemies / stole off with you" and gets it clearly and puzzlingly wrong.) You write "How many enemies have I warned away" and it seems to me that you are on the right track, but I wonder if the enemies' situation isn't more dire that just needing a warning. Could they have already been wounded in the thorns? Perhaps something like "How many enemies have I untangled from you" or "had to rescue"....

    Just a thought, and a tentative one, at that ....


    1. Hi James - thanks for your comments and suggestions!

      I feel as though Rilke was in a bad mood when he wrote this - or his narrator was - a bit fed up with the rose's self-absorption, or something...

      I was pretty sure Poulin got it wrong, though reading his translation gave me some self-doubt. I think Rilke's French grammar is occasionally a little dodgy as well. (Not just poetic. Dodgy.) I'm going to give the "enemies" bit more held me up a bit in the course of translating, as well. As you've partly suggested, the problem of translation here may partly hinge on how much sympathy the narrator does or doesn't have for the "enemies".