Thursday, March 8, 2018

A breathing towards the First World

A short poem by Rilke addresses the theme of what becomes of the dreams of childhood and the child self that is the dreamer. It is titled "Imaginary Career" (Imaginärer Lebenslauf) .Stephen Mitchell's translation goes as follows:

At first a childhood, limitless and free
of any goals. Ah sweet unconsciousness.
Then sudden terror, schoolrooms, slavery.
the plunge into temptation and deep loss.

Defiance. The child bent becomes the bender,
inflicts on others what he once went through.
Loved, feared, rescuer, wrestler, victor,
he takes his vengeance, blow by blow.

And now in vast, cold, empty space, alone.
Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart
a longing for the first world, the ancient one...

Then from his place of ambush, God leapt out.

Mitchell's version does not quite satisfy me. Lust, which he translates as unconsciousness, means so much more. Edward Snow does better, in his version in the bilingual edition of the Uncollected Poems, when he calls it "unthinking joy".

Snow also has a better and more literal translation of a key phrase in the third stanza, about what is hidden in the grown-up heart (literally, the "constructed form", der errichteten Gestalt):

    a breathing towards the First, the Ancient

 The German original for this line is 

    ein Atemholen nach dem Ersten, Alten...

And here we have the sense of soul, of the possibility of anamnesis, of remembering what the soul knows. And of bringing home the magical child who remembers his home star. A "breathing towards", ein Atemholen...

As I linger on these words, I feel someone deep in me, a boy with freckles and a wooden sword, a love of tigers and brown rivers, breathing towards a blue star. 

Art: "Boy with a Wooden Sword" by Edmund Rode

1 comment:

Patricia said...

OM goodness, I Love this; "a breathing towards the First, the Ancient" and "Then from his place of ambush, God leapt out."