The Adirondack Review
FALL 2017
Three Poems
translated by JAMES OWENS


Only you, fountain, falling back on yourself,
can teach me the lesson I must learn—
that of water wagered to its own return
from heavenly rise to earthly life.

Nothing better than your multiple murmur
could set me such a true example—
you, weightless column of this temple,
abolishing self by your own nature. 

Falling, each stream modulates
perfectly to conclude its dance.
I feel myself a pupil who imitates
your flow of innumerable nuance.

But what draws me more than your song in the night
is the ecstatic silence of that fine instant
when the whole of your liquid rush, now hesitant,
trembles, balanced, between return and flight.

La fontaine

Je ne veux qu'une seule leçon, c'est la tienne,
fontaine, qui en toi-même retombes, -
celle des eaux risquées auxquelles incombe
ce céleste retour vers la vie terrienne.

Autant que ton multiple murmure
rien ne saurait me servir d'exemple;
toi, ô colonne légère du temple
qui se détruit par sa propre nature.

Dans ta chute, combien se module
chaque jet d'eau qui termine sa danse.
Que je me sens l'élève, l'émule
de ton innombrable nuance!

Mais ce qui plus que ton chant vers toi me décide
c'est cet instant d'un silence en délire
lorsqu' à la nuit, à travers ton élan liquide
passe ton propre retour qu'un souffle retire.

[ The child startles at the mirror ]

The child startles at the mirror
and passes:
and no one guesses
what his image does there.

But near evening his memory
insists he return for proof,
and a lingering curiosity
stops him before himself.

One can't tell if this is fear.
But he pauses now, his gaze
searches his own face,
and he breathes—somehow—elsewhere.

[ L'enfant devant la glace s'étonne ]

L'enfant devant la glace s'étonne
et passe;
et personne ne ramasse
ce que son image lui donne.

Vers le soir pourtant il arrive
quand son souvenir s'entête,
qu'une curiosité tardive
devant la glace l'arrête.

On ne sait pas trop s'il a peur.
Mais il reste, il s'engage,
et devant sa propre image
se transporte ailleurs.

[ Geranium bursting ]

Geranium bursting
on a soft evening of rain,
your scarlet joy
pierces me better

than any more tender omen.
How I am convinced
by your red rage!
—and by the slow refusal

of the evening that weeps
and murmurs: enough.
Now I see: the hour
dissolves to let itself pass.

[ Géranium qui éclate ]

Géranium qui éclate
au doux soir pluvieux
que ta joie écarlate
me pénètre mieux

qu'un plus tendre présage.
Comme je suis convaincu
de ta rouge rage -
et le lent refus

de ce soir qui pleure
et qui murmure: assez -
je le connais: c'est l'heure
qui se dissout pour passer.

RAINER MARIA RILKE was born in 1875 in Prague and lived a largely itinerant life through the countries of Western Europe. He wrote plays, a quasi-autobiographical novel, several volumes of often lyrical correspondence, and is almost universally regarded as one of the most important German-language poets of the past two centuries. His poems are vibrant with a longing for the ineffable during a time of change and doubt. Though most well known for his work in German, Rilke also wrote around 400 poems in French, the vast majority of them after the astounding burst of poetic energy of the early 1920's that saw the completion of the Dunio Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. Many of Rilke's French poems are of a simpler lyricism and are often focused on the Swiss landscape near Schloss Muzot, in the Valais, where he spent the last years of his not very long life. He died of leukemia in 1926.

JAMES OWENS is the author of three collections of poems: An Hour is the Doorway (Black Lawrence Press, 2007), Frost Lights a Thin Flame (Mayapple Press, 2007), and Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). Some of his earlier translations from Rilke's French poems have appeared at Peacock Journal, jmww, and Ezra: an Online Journal of Translation. He has an MFA from the University of Alabama and lives in Indiana and northern Ontario.