N i c o l e  B r o d s k y   &   L a u r e n  S c h i f f m a n

How could we collaborate with a long-dead poet whose language
we do not speak? We did a translation project using a few poems
from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Since neither of us
speak any German, we translated the poems into English solely using
the sound and appearance of the words in the original German version,
and finally tweaking words or phrases here and there to make their fit in
our versions a bit more snug. We each wrote independent pieces without
referring to each other's versions or the English translation.

 

 

R a i n e r   M a r i a   R i l k e

 

U N T I T L E D

Du im Voraus
verlorne Geleibte, Nimmergekommene,
nicht weiß ich, dich, welche Töne dir lieb sind.
Nicht mehr versuch ich, dich, wenn das Kommende wogt,
zu erkennen. Alle die großen
Bilder in mir, im Fernen erfahrene Landschaft,
Städte und Türme und Brücken und un-
vermutete Wendung der Wege
und das Gewaltige jener von Göttern
einst durchwaschsenen Länder:
steigt zur Bedeutung in mir
deiner, Entgehende, an.
Ach, die Gärten bist du,
ach, ich sah sie mit solcher
Hoffhung. Ein offenes Fenster
im Landhaus--, und du tratest beinahe
mir nachdenklich heran. Gassen fand ich, --
du warst sie gerade gegangen,
und die Spiegel manchmal der Läden der Händler
waren noch schwindlich von dir und gaben erschrocken
mein zu plötzliches Bild. --Wer weiß, ob derselbe
Vogel nicht hinklang durch uns
gestern, einzeln, im Abend?

 

 

The  English  Translation:

[You who never arrived]
You who never arrived
in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
from the start,
I don't even know what songs
would please you. I have given up trying
to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
moment. All the immense
images in me--the far-off, deeply-felt landscape,
cities, towers, and bridges, and un-
suspected turns in the path,
and those powerful lands that were once
pulsing with the life of the gods--
all rise within me to mean
you, who forever elude me.
You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house--, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,--
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back
my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same
bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, separate, in the evening

 

 

 

N i c o l e   B r o d s k y

 

T H E   S M A L L   A N D   F I N A L   W A R

 

To him, voracious,
forlorn for the nightnevercoming.
Not wise, I welcomed his tone like sand,
each word more a ditch than a command worked
into a castle. All of us die grossly,
building in a mire, inferno, Fahrenheit, in land's shaft.
State and town and broken and un-
derneath it we went vaguely--
(and that's generous)-a lantern,
eyes dark, watching the sun landing
straight, sure, bedding in the mire,
tinier and tucked in.

Ache, die, guarding piss and shit.
Ache, I say. Sit like a soldier
halfgunned. My offenses fester
in the landhouse as you track behind me nightstuff,
what clicks and fixes in the night.
Guess we found our cover.
Our wars saw grand forgetfulness
but we died special, not bad men laden for the handler.
Some warden knocked, swindled, wondered and gave in exhausted.
Us too, men in zoos, crickets dark in a web of disguise,
a vocal night finally fixing us in our tired ditch.
Just enough room for the last of our gesturing--
Am I in your bed?

 

 

 

 

 

L a u r e n   S c h i f f m a n

 

A    P O R T R A I T :   T W O    I N    M O R A S S

Two in morass,
forlorn, living nevercoming,
night whites me, a welcome lifesong.
The nightmare forces me, deep, when daily wavers,
you're irked. All the huge
mirrored buildings, I'm failing or rather a foreign canyon,
state and time and broken and un-
permutated vendor of vague,
and this vaulted angst generation
dirtwalks on Sundays, laundered:
stacked your bettertongue in mire,
danger, endturn, an.

Ah, the garden kissed you.
Ah, I sigh, a saltless sea,
halfling. I often fester
outlandishly--, and you try to bend
mireknotstangled herein. Guessing found me,--
you were gigantic in your charade,
and were the speaker muchmore than the laden, than the handler,
wherein you knock the wind loose one day and give in to the earth's rocking,
build my plotleak--we're the white of shell,
vocal night hinging dark
one guessturn, onezone, onebent?

 

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