Poetry / Noh Anothai
:: Translating Rilke with Some High School German ::
I. At once, from its entirely-green, the park one knows not what, a something, seems to lose. One feels it to the window coming close and falling silent. Urgently and stark there shrills from in the brush a rainday plover, momentous as the Word sung through Jerome must have been. From this arises so singular a solitude and ardor that the storm will answer. The walls inside the hall withdraw from us with their all their paintings, as if these are not allowed to hear that which we say. Reflected in the faded tapestries is the uncertain light of late midday for which, as children, we felt such awe. II. Lord, it is time: this summer was so full. Now let your shadow on the sundials lean, across the fields allow the winds to roll. Command the final fruits to be complete; grant them just two more days of southernliness. Urge them to their ripening, then press into the potent wine its final sweet. Who has by now no house will not build one; who is alone will long alone remain, will wake, will read, will write to friends long letters, and wander up and down the tree-lined lane disquieted, while leaves around him flutter.
From the writer
:: Account ::
Man denkt an einem Hieronymus, reads Rilke’s original German, literally One thinks of a Jerome if my German is correct (and there’s no guarantee that it is). I learned while translating this poem that St. Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, creating the Latin Vulgate, so-called because the “vulgar,” or common, masses could understand it. To translate a text believed to be the word of God Himself from its original language must have been a radical act, and to hear it in a tongue that you can understand without mediation, equally revolutionary (though my understanding of this could likewise be skewed). Nevertheless, this conjecture gave me a frame for understanding the Regenpfeifer, the bird whose Stimme is so raw and elemental that the world responds from the edge of upheaval—and for deviating from a more literal translation the way I have.
I don’t know for sure, though, if this is actually the Jerome Rilke had in mind. There is a school that would deem my translation irresponsible or untrustworthy as a result, and it’s true that I could have done more homework. But I was mostly interested in what happens when a translator doesn’t know everything or have all his bases covered, when he approaches a poem not as a specialist in either the language or the author and doesn’t seek an expert’s opinion.
I took German all four years of high school in west-suburban Chicagoland, but the first two were something of ein Witz. Our elderly Herr was a lighthearted soul, and the clowns comprising most of our class never stopped taking advantage of this. A new, more by-the-book Lehrerin took his place my junior Jahr, but by then most of us were further behind than our peers in Spanish or French, who were already reading simple verse while many of us were still crunching sentence structure. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered Rilke’s work. Flipping through a bilingual edition, I was delighted by how much German I still understood—those years had not been a waste, after all—and intrigued by how much I didn’t. The interplay between them primed my imagination.
Noh Anothai was a researcher with the Thailand-United States Education Foundation (Fulbright Thailand) in 2011-12. His original poems and translations of Thai poetry have appeared both online and in print, most recently in Ecotone, the Tin House blog, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. Winner of the inaugural Lunch Ticket Gabo Prize for Translation and Multilingual Texts, Anothai serves as an assistant editor for Sundress Publications and teaches for the online MFA in Writing program at Lindenwood University.