September 22, 2004

Autumn Day

The Bookish Gardener describes a recent performance of the Brahms B minor clarinet quintet, at which John Harbison read Rilke's poem Herbsttag ("Autumn Day") in German, with an on-the-spot English translation. She links to a Poetry Connection page that gives four translations of the Rilke poem, along with the German original, adding

And here's the thing: even if you have only a smattering of German, it's worth reading the original poem aloud—even without a contemporaneous understanding of the German—the better to appreciate the poem's "music".

She makes the same point with respect to the Basho haiku and its fourteen translations at Bemsha Swing, and the interlinear version that I gave a little while ago. I agree. But wouldn't it be nice (and easy!) to have a few links to digital recordings as well? Many people put their own writing on the net, and their pictures, and (less often) their own music or their performances of someone else's music. But I don't think I've ever encountered a link to a poetry reading, though I'm sure some are out there. And Google has a special site for searching for pictures, but no one has a site for searching for (spoken) audio.

Here's the first sentence of Herbsttag in German, courtesy of Poetry Connection:

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Here are the four translations of this first sentence:

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.

(Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, "The Essential Rilke")
Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now,
and through the meadow let the winds throng.

(William Gass, "Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problem of Translation")
Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

(Stephen Mitchell, "The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke")
Lord, it is time now,
for the summer has gone on
and gone on.
Lay your shadow along the sun-
dials and in the field
let the great wind blow free.

(John Logan, "Homage to Rainer Maria Rilke")


Here's a stab at the (missing) interlinear version...

Herbst tag
autumn day

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war   sehr   gross.
lord  it  is time. the summer was   very    big.

Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
lay your   shadow   on  the sundials

und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los. 
and on  the meadows let the winds loose

Now, how about some links to (legally downloadable) digital recordings of the poem in German?

[Update: Chan (the Bookish Gardener herself) emails that

Mark - thanks for the link! Here's a link to a Harper Audio site with audio of author readings, including some poets (notably Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot). There must be other similar sites out there, but you're right--the search engines are inadequate for finding them, and the Harper Audio one is the only one I've run across in my travels.

A small correction on a point which I may not have been clear about in my post -- what Harbison read was his English translation only, and he did not read it the poem in German first (although it would have been very cool if he had).

I think there's quite a bit of stuff like this out there, but indeed, it's not as easy to find it as it should be.

For example, here is a page of poems by Assunta Finiguerra, who writes in the dialect of Basilicata ("a region bordering with Campania (West), with Puglia (North-East) and with Calabria (South), with a population of about 610.000 people scattered in one hundred and thirty towns"); each poem is given in Basilicata text, Standard Italian translation, English translation, and a link to an .mp3 of a reading in by the poet herself. I found this link by following some references due to Stefano Taschini, about which more later.

I'm grateful for this much, and it's unreasonable to ask for more. But in such cases, even a little bit of analytical text (about the language, the context, the meter, whatever) would add a lot.

And someday, we'll have online editions of Rilke (and Dante and Pushkin and Homer), with translations and interlinear analysis and sound files and enlightening footnotes and...


[Oh, is my face red! The perceptive Dr. Margaret Marks of Transblawg did the obvious due diligence by typing {rilke mp3} into Google, and the first hit is this...

as she explained to me by email.


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 22, 2004 06:19 PM