Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke New Poems Translated by Len Krisak


Rainer Maria Rilke
New Poems
Translated by Len Krisak
Copyright © 2015 Len Krisak
Camden House
Rochester, New York
379 pages, hardbound

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Too often reading a translation of a well-known poet like Rainer Maria Rilke one gets the feeling of reading more of the translator’s poetry and not the original poet. So while a number of people have translated Rainer Maria Rilke’s New Poems-- one of the more accessible and interesting versions is by Len Krisak, a four time winner on the television show “Jeopardy” and a person who has published more than 500 poems  including translations from Latin, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Russian and German. 

Despite his successes and intellect he remains a rather modest individual and as you will see in this work, he is an excellent translator who makes Rilke readable to those who are familiar with Rilke as well as those who may be reading him for the first time.  As a bonus you will “feel” Rilke and not be acutely aware you are reading a translation.

George C. Schoolfield, who wrote the introduction to Krisak’s translations, was  a professor emeritus of German and Scandinavian literature who focused his research, among other things on German literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially the works of Rainer Maria Rilke. He died on July 21, 2016 at the age of  90.

In his introduction Schoolfield notes, “To date there have been four translations of Neue Gedichte [New Poems] into English…These four are now jointed by Len Krisak’s translation…but Krisak’s translation, it seems to me, comes closest to replicating Rilke’s poems’ vitality and their subtleties of diction and form.

Thanks to numerous translators who have engaged poetic traditions from many languages poetry has risen to an even more significant place in American literary form and tradition,   
Aside from reading English, Scots, Welsh and Irish poetry, translators have brought to the American shores the work of poets from Germany, Greece, India, China, Japan, Italy,
France, Russia, Nigeria, South Africa and the Eastern European countries of Romania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Albania and many other countries.   These translations have added new words and styles as well as new poets for us to read and enjoy.

In the “Translator’s Preface” Krisak points out, “Any translator – but especially a translator of poetry – owes his reader an account of his practice, out of both necessity and courtesy…So I have tried to translate these poems line-for-line,  rhyme scheme – for –  rhyme scheme, and, as far as possible, meter-for-meter. 

In the following two excerpts from New Poems you can see Krisak’s ability to follow through on his translating prowess and present a Rilke who is intellectual, accessible and entertaining.   For that we say thank you to Len Krisak.

In a Strange Park

There are two paths, and neither shows the way.
But sometimes, when you’re left in thought, alone
in the wrong place, one lets you go ahead,
and suddenly you’re in a flower bed,
a clearing, left once more beside her stone.
Again you read there what the letters say:
Barness Brita-Sophie. Once again,
your finger searches for a worn-thin date:
so this discovery never ages then?

Just as before, why do you hesitate,
so hopeful in this stand of elm trees where
it’s damp and dark and no foot ever treads?

What counter-inclination draws you there
to search for something you might find in sunny beds,
as if discovering a rose tree’s name?

What’s that you hear? Why do you stop so? Why,
at last – half-lost – do you see in the high
phlox, butterflies that flicker like a flame?

The Blind Man

Look how he walks his city never seen
inside his darkness; how he interrupts
it like a black crack rifting through a cup’s
whiteness. As if he were a sheet, a clean

new piece of paper, things are painting him
with their reflections, but he doesn’t take
them in. Only his feeling stirs awake,
as if to catch the world’s small waves that swim

about him. Stillness and resisting bedrock.
Then, it’s as if he’s waiting whom to choose,
his hand held in a gesture one might use
to give oneself away in solemn wedlock.
Zvi A. Sesling

Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva, 2016)
Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)
King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Press, 2010)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Publisher, Muddy River Books
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7& 8

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