Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Rilke, Rainer Maria
The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
I bought this towards the end of my senior year in college, but I am not sure where. Possibly at St. Mark's Bookshop, possibly elsewhere. I would say Rilke was the most read poet of my early twenties. I probably read something by him every day for a year. Sadly, I never learned enough German to read the original, but I've always liked Stephen Mitchell's translations.
I have a memory of one of my literary compadres of that time sneering at Rilke, mostly out of pure ignorance. He'd gotten very excited by a French Symbolism course he taken with a priest at Fordham and basically rejected any poet that had not been taught in that class. I didn't try to defend Rilke too adamantly, as he didn't seem to want to expand his world beyond the Symbolistes.
from The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
The Spanish Dancer
As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.
And all at once it is completely fire.
One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.
And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die–.
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.