The Lord’s Supper

They’re gathered round, astonished, full of dread,
round him who like a wise man must decide,
and who leaves those with whom he’s broken bread,
and who comes like a stranger from outside.
Old solitude haunts him, Gethsemane,
though once it bound him to astounding acts;
now he will walk through every olive tree,
and those who love him turn away their backs.

He’s called them to the table, past the stoves,
and (like birds woken by shots from the groves)
he humbles their hands from among the loaves
with his own words: and toward him they fly,
flawed, fluttering; and yet with all their power,
they look for ways out, since the time is nigh,
but he is everywhere, like twilight hour.

Translated by Leo Yankevich from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 –1926).

Das Abendmahl

Sie sind versammelt, staunende Verstörte,
um ihn, der wie ein Weiser sich beschließt,
und der sich fortnimmt, denen er gehörte,
und der an ihnen fremd vorüberfließt.
Die alte Einsamkeit kommt über ihn,
die ihn erzog zu seinem tiefen Handeln;
nun wird er wieder durch den Ölwald wandeln,
und die ihn lieben, werden vor ihm fliehn.

Er hat sie zu dem letzten Tisch entboten
und (wie ein Schuß die Vögel aus den Schoten
scheucht) scheucht er ihre Hände aus den Broten
mit seinem Wort: sie fliegen zu ihm her;
sie flattern bange durch die Tafelrunde
und suchen einen Ausgang. Aber er
ist überall wie eine Dämmerstunde.

 

Angels

They all have mouths that tire,
bright souls that have no seams.
And longing (for sin’s mire)
passes through their dreams.

Almost alike they stride,
silent beneath the Tree,
like intervals inside
great God’s grand symphony.

But when one of them rages,
spread wings set tempests spinning,
as if God, sculpting ages,
huge-handed, leafed through pages,
the dark book of beginning.

Translated by Leo Yankevich from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Die Engel 

Sie haben alle müde Münde
und helle Seelen ohne Saum.
Und eine Sehnsucht (wie nach Sünde)
geht ihnen manchmal durch den Traum.

Fast gleichen sie einander alle;
in Gottes Gärten schweigen sie,
wie viele, viele Intervalle
in seiner Macht und Melodie.

Nur wenn sie ihre Flügel breiten,
sind sie die Wecker eines Winds:
als ginge Gott mit seinen weiten
Bildhauerhänden durch die Seiten
im dunklen Buch des Anbeginns.

 

Leo Yankevich’s latest books are The Last Silesian (The Mandrake Press, 2005) Tikkun Olam & Other Poems (Second Expanded Edition), (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2012), Journey Late at Night: Poems & Translations (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2013) & The Hypocrisies of Heaven: Poems New & Old (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2016).  More of his work can be found at Leo Yankevich.com.

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12 Responses

  1. Rob Mezey

    These are great, masterful poems in themselves; both are simply sublime. Bravo!

    Reply
  2. Leo Yankevich

    I have changed the title of the second poem to “Angels,” which works better in English. Mr Mantyk, if you could change it too, I’d be grateful.

    Thank you, Rob and Joe, for your comments.

    Reply
  3. Hieronymus Bosch

    These two poems are so sublime and well-made they border on the miraculous. To whom shall we attribute the genius, Rilke or Yankevich? I say both.

    Reply
  4. Josef Hans Dietrich

    Whilst working on my doctorate (The Metaphysics of Angels in the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke) at the University of Salzburg in the late 1980s, I read the great Austrian poet daily in my hostel and amidst friends in bierstubes, drinking the most delicious märzen lagers.

    In ’89 a friend sent me Stephen Mitchell’s book of translations, which had the German originals on the right side, and Mitchell’s translations on the left. I thought them competent, albeit bland, reeking of the plain-style language of the day. Mitchell never got the metre right or used pure rhymes. And, of course, he really did not interpret Rilke properly, being a stupid American.

    Mr Yankevich’s translations are poems in and of themselves, better, I daresay, than anything the greatest poet of the English language, W.B. Yeats, ever wrote.

    Reply
  5. Josef Hans Dietrich

    Erratum: “…which had the German originals on the right side, and Mitchell’s translations on the left”

    ought to be:

    “…which had the German originals on the left side, and Mitchell’s translations on the right “

    Reply
  6. Troy A. Xavier

    I love Rilke, one of my favorite German poets. Good work!

    Reply
  7. Shlomo Goldberg

    I stumbled on this website during a Google search for Rilke poems/translations. I found many, but these are by far the best. They are so good that I plan to use them (with the translator’s permission) in the comparative literature course that I teach at the University of Tel Aviv.

    Dr. Shlomo Goldberg

    Reply
  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    Leo Yankevich is a highly accomplished translator not only from German, but also from Polish, Russian, and other Slavic tongues. These renderings of Rilke are absolutely top-notch.

    Reply
  9. David Watt

    Your translations have brought forth a great deal of praise, and rightly so. Excellent work!

    Reply

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