Poetry Review: “Day in Autumn” by Ranier Maria Rilke

"Nine Mile Creek" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Nine Mile Creek” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Here in the North Country the brightest autumn colors are mostly gone. Friday night was homecoming at our local high school. The last for my youngest daughter, so the last for Sue and I. A cold evening meant winter coats and hats taken out of closets and baskets where they have laid forgotten for six months.

The first juncoes of the fall have arrived… fat and grey, feeding on the ground beneath the feeders. Looking out my back window the locust is about half gold now, the neighbor’s cottonwood and crab apples are bare. Down the way, one butterscotch-golden maple still sings in the sun, but the few wondrous days of full color before winter begins its settling in are gone.

Late fall and winter belong to the evergreens that have gone largely unnoticed for months now. I have one tall fir next to the deck where Sue has hung a birdhouse the last few summers that has been popular with finches. A neighbor to the north has a long line of tall firs. In the winter after a great snowfall, they are some of the only color you can see in that direction.

Autumn poems are on my mind. I do not remember when I first read this poem by Rilke. I do know though that it was different translation.

I always feel a bit anxious when approaching a translated poem. What subtleties are untranslatable? What meanings and sounds are lost first to the translator and then to me? And yet with a great poet like Rilke, enough that is essential still shines through.

Enjoy!

Day in Autumn
After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.
As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.
Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

As Brodsky and Auden and a hundred other poets have written, the European relationship to nature is so different than the American. This is a European poem, not an American one. This last stanza carries the mournful tones that come inevitably with the end of autumn’s riotous golds: Melancholy and resignation.

 

 

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