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Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Swan

This is my translation of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which my mother said is one of her favorite poems.  But more precisely, since I don't read German, I based my translation on a prior translation (which my mother gave me) by Joanna Macy.  Until I read this poem (in Macy's translation), I never particularly much liked or understood Rilke.  But Macy has given me a much better appreciation for Rilke's incredible talents, which here I have tried to restate in a style more of my own.

 * * * * * * * *

We labor away
With all that remains undone
Everything that weighs us down
Much as a waddling swan
Approaches the water

And when we die
The very ground seems to
Give way underneath us
Just as the swan delivers itself
Hesitant but gracefully
Onto the water’s surface
Which yields as it flows all around
Ripple after ripple

While the swan
Now altogether calm and secure
And with regal bearing
Glides forward serenely 

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