Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"Will Transformation": A new Rilke Translation by Burton Pike Awakens Us!

It has been two years since I have written here, having been occupied more or less meaningfully with other things, but today it begins again, having, in a real Rilkean sense, been always waiting there to be reborn, noticed, re-opened. 
      Burton Pike, Musil's consummate translator and herald, has dared to render a new translation of Rilke, a spare and serious collection, which erupts in sudden violent blossoms out of its careful respect for Rilke's consummate craftsmanship and his commitment to finding a language that could begin to approximate what it means to see new.
     The collection, called "Where the Paths Do Not Go," after a line in a late poem called "Will-o'-the-Wisps," is gifted with a beautiful introduction that stresses the hard work that was required to "upend" German "as a poetic language." Burton Pike notes that many English translations do not "notice that the poems are not just beautiful, but the product of a hard, driving will that in German is evident in his mature work". Then the translator shares a passage from a poem Rilke wrote in 1908 for a young poet who had killed himself. In "Requiem," Rilke compares the work of the poet to that of a stonemason of a cathedral, who, "doggedly translates himself into the composure of the stone." This difficult transformation and difficult "translation" is a thread that runs through all of the poems, both in theme and form, as the poet struggles to transform new vision into new language to give birth to poems that are witness to the way in which all objects and persons are constantly in the process of changing state, becoming, dying, being born, undergoing metamorphosis through the medium of metaphor. 
    Musil, in his eulogy for Rilke, invoked the transformative nature of Rilke's vision and method, writing that in Rilke's poems, "Something is never compared with something else — as two different and separate things, which they remain in the comparison — for, even if this sometimes does happen, and one thing is said to be like another, it seems at that very moment to have already been the other since primordial times...The metaphoric here becomes serious to a high degree" (in Precision and Soul, translated by Burton Pike and David Luft). We have, in the poems here presented, a proliferation of objects, natural phenomena, tones, invisible forces like wind and thought, anthropomorphized, animated by intelligence, spirit, feeling, which is ordinarily not recognized to be present in them, while persons, parts of persons, angels, gods and goddesses are objectified, i.e., turned temporarily into objects, emptied out, hollowed of the spirit that usually is assumed to be their inheritance, alienated from their usual contexts. A flood of water, flowing over the blackened, bearded chin of a rock-face, is interrupted by the intrusion of a jug; flower petals want to lose the intensity of their blueness, then think again; Orpheus's lyre grows into his hand, "like rose vines in the branch of the olive tree"; Eurydice does not mind her lover's fatal glancing back, because "She was already root"; singing is a "high tree in the ear"; an invisible poem breathes....
     The poems are often difficult, and difficult to understand, especially as the translator has taken great pains to leave open what Rilke has left open, not to fill in what has necessarily been left unarticulated in respect to the task: the approximate transformation into tentative form of something that is not quite fixed or fixable, something for which there is hardly a language yet. It is important not to mistake the magic of this metaphoric transubstantiation with an indiscriminate flowing of everything into everything, or anything into whatever. The approximation of like to almost like requires extreme caution and care, discrimination and selection, carving and cutting, an excruciatingly precise artistry. And Burton Pike's translation approaches the poems with an exquisite awareness of the necessity of exactitude in the articulation of that which is so fleeting and so difficult to grasp, an approach equally requisite to and present in his translations of Musil's kindred attempts. 
     Here is a poem, in Burton Pike's rendering, preceded by the original German, which has been lovingly included in this volume:

 Sonett 2:12

Wolle die Wandlung. O sei für die Flamme begeistert,
drin sich ein Ding dir entzieht, das mit Verwandlungen prunkt;
jener entwerfende Geist, welcher das Irdische meistert,
liebt in dem Schwung der Figur nichts wie den wendenden Punkt.

Was sich ins Bleiben verschlieβt, schon ists das Erstarrte;
wähnt es sich sicher im Schutz des unscheinbaren Grau’s?
Warte, ein Härtestes warnt aus der Ferne das Harte.
Wehe – : abwesender Hammer holt aus!

Wer sich als Quelle ergieβt, den erkennt die Erkennung;
und sie führt ihn entzückt durch das heiter Geschaffene,
das mit Anfang oft Schlieβt und mit Ende beginnt.

Jeder glückliche Raum ist Kind oder Enkel von Trennung,
den sie staunend durchgehn. Und die verwandelte Daphne
will, seit sie lorbeern fühlt, daβ du dich wandelst in Wind.

Sonnet 2:12

Will transformation. O be inspired by the flame
within which a thing that glows with transformations withdraws from you;
that designing spirit that masters what is earthly
loves in the figure's changes nothing like the turning point.

What locks itself in stasis already is the frozen:
does it think itself safe protected by the nondescript gray?
Wait, a hardest warns from the distance the hard,
woe – absent hammer is raised!

Who pours himself forth as a spring, him recognition recognizes; 
and it leads him charmed through the cheerfully created
that with beginning often closes and with ending begins.

Every happy space is a child or grandchild of parting, 
which they go through astonished. And Daphne transformed,
since she feels herself laureling, wants you to change into wind. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Contra Mundum Press: New Website, New Offerings, Sale!

Hello Friends of Books, Friends of Musil, Friends of Mine, Friends of the Avant Garde, Modernism, Translation, Small Presses, Fellini, Godard, Sandor Tar, Szentkuthy, Foreman, Villa, usw,
Contra Mundum Press (which published my Musil translation, Thought Flights)has a new website, featuring many great new titles (I am particularly excited about the forthcoming letters of Otto Dix). And they are having a sale,
offering a $5.00 discount on every book when ordering directly through the press. The coupon code is: CntMn278(it can be added to the coupon code box above the "buy now" button for each book).
So, if you don't yet have a copy of Thought Flights (how can you even get up in the morning without one?),if you haven't seen the most recent edition of Hyperion (On Mallarmé) or if need some other stimulating literature to spice up your Spring, check out the offerings here:
Happy Spring to All of You!
Most Fondly,

Friday, March 18, 2016

Burton Pike Podcast on Virtual Memories

I wonder on what system or non-system the books are arranged.

Gil Roth has interviewed Burton Pike on his series Virtual Memories, and it is a fascinating and moving conversation ranging from discussions of translation, teaching, cultural differences, language, surprises, Musil, Rilke, Meier, Proust, music, New York City, Cornell University, and more. It lasts for an hour and 34 minutes, so get comfortable with a cup of tea or glass of wine and enjoy Burton Pike's wise, witty, erudite, and warm presence!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Burton Pike on Translation

On the occasion of receiving the Friedrich Ulfers Prize for translation, the wonderful Burton Pike provides some wise words on translation and rhythm: 

Translator Burton Pike Accepts 2016 Friedrich Ulfers Prize

 And Shelley Frisch reflects on her decades-long friendship with the great translator, teacher, and scholar: 

Shelley Frisch Reflects on Translator Burton Pike as ...

Congratulations to Burton Pike, who deserves all the awards as far as I am concerned!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Two New Musil Studies

I have received a notice of a fascinating piece by Thomas Harrison on Musil's essayism, which I am happy to pass on to you all. Harrison is one of my favorite Musil scholars.Enjoy!

And, in other Musil publication news,  Karl Corino, Musil's eminent biographer, has a new book about Musil and Italy out, illustrated with photographs and documents from his voluminous archive. In German, of course. With Martha Musil's  self-portrait on the cover, also of course. 

Friday, May 15, 2015


 The new edition of Hyperion: The Future of Aesthetics is out (or "up"). And it is really astonishing. Not only does it include my translation of Hofmannsthal's own answer to his Lord Chandos Letter, "Letters from a Returning One," but also a marvelous essay by Nancy Kline on translating Eluard and Char, a fascinating introduction and translation by Rainer J. Hanshe of Blaise Cendrar's "I Killed," an essay by Andrey Bely on Friedrich Nietzsche, and a translation by Fulya Pekar of the Turkish author,  Ferit Edgü, but also excerpts from Contra Mundum's forthcoming edition of Otto Dix letters, plus much much more (I am only beginning to explore its riches). It is beautifully designed and edited, and the theme of translation and of the challenges and pleasures of verbal communication runs through the whole like a red thread, illustrated by these two epigraphs:

Les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère. Sous
chaque mot chacun de nous met son sens ou du moins son image qui
est souvent un contresens. Mais les beaux livres, tous les contresens
qu’on fait sont beaux. — Proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve

For a translator, the supreme authority should be the author's
personal style. But most translators obey another authority: that of
the conventional version of “good French” (or good German, good
English, et cetera), namely, the French (the German, et cetera) we
learn in school. The translator considers himself the ambassador
from that authority to the foreign author. That is the error: every
author of some value transgresses against “good style,” and in that
transgression lies the originality (and hence the raison d'être) of his
art. The translator's primary effort should be to understand that
transgression. This is not difficult when it is obvious, as for example
with Rabelais, or Joyce, or Celine. But there are authors whose
transgression against “good style” is subtle, barely visible, hidden,
discreet; as such, it is not easy to grasp. In such a case, it is all the
more important to do so. — Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed

Here is the link. Enjoy! And do shower Rainer with accolades when you are finished. It can be a strangely silent world, the world of words, and it always helps to hear a murmur, an echo, a stammer or stutter of recognition from the wide, wide world.