Rainer Maria Rilke is one of the great poets of the 20th century. He's also one of the most popular. He's been translated again and again, as if some ideal English version of his German poems haunted so many minds that writers have had to keep trying to find it. Here, for the time of year, is a poem that he wrote in Paris on Sept. 21, 1902.
Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your shadow on the sundials
and let loose the wind in the fields.
Bid the last fruits to be full;
give them another two more southerly days,
press them to ripeness, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will not build one
Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long
will stay up, read, write long letters,
and wander the avenues, up and down,
restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.
-- Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, "The Essential Rilke" (Ecco)
Lord, it is time. The summer was too long.
Lay your shadow on the sundials now,
and through the meadow let the winds throng.
Ask the last fruits to ripen on the vine;
give them further two more summer days
to bring about perfection and to raise
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will establish none,
whoever lives alone now will live on long alone,
will waken, read, and write long letters,
wander up and down the barren paths
the parks expose when the leaves are blown.
-- William Gass, "Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problem of Translation" (Knopf)
Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.
Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days,
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the
and wander the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.
-- Stephen Mitchell, "The Selected Poetry of
Rainer Maria Rilke" (Random House)
Lord, it is time now,
for the summer has gone on
and gone on.
Lay your shadow along the sun-
dials and in the field
let the great wind blow free.
Command the last fruit
let it bow down the vine --
with perhaps two sun-warm days
more to force the last
sweetness in the heavy wine.
He who has no home
will not build one now.
He who is alone
will stay long
alone, will wake up,
read, write long letters,
and walk in the streets,
walk by in the
streets when the leaves blow.
-- John Logan, from "Homage to Rainer Maria Rilke," Collected Poems (BOA Editions)
Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.
Befiehl den letzten Fruchten voll zu sein;
gieb innen noch zwei sudlichere Tage,
drange sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Susse in den schweren Wein.
Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blatter treiben.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke