… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

Sonnets to Orpheus    

                Part II


All we gained is threatened by the machine

As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,

Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand

It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.

Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,

Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.

It circles in living and claims to know best about living,

And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.

Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,

To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.

Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,

While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,

Gathering music into the divine unmade.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Ashen Venema

A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.

I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.


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8 responses to “… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

  1. Most interesting post and poem, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob

    Thankyou Ashen.
    I’ve never picked up a book of Rilke myself but you and a couple of other people sometimes send me an extract and I always really dig them.
    I’ve never been a great enthusiast about machines but very often the people who invent and develop them dote on them, rather like a parent dotes on their child. I guess it’s rather the same for the artist, in both cases somewhat analogous to giving birth to and nurturing the offspring.
    Nevertheless I’m afraid that that thought doesn’t do much to enhance my love of machines, except very simple ones like can-openers!
    But it’s clear that the invention, development and use of tools (a machine is after all a sophisticated tool) is part of the package of being human and we have made ourselves very very dependent on them.
    Before I had a car, I never noticed I didn’t have one. After I got one, I’d feel panicky if I didn’t have access to one. Pretty much the same with computers and smart phones now I’m sorry to have to admit. And of course this ultra-dependency has a vast downside.
    People, including myself, express concern about the trend towards implanting bits and pieces of technology in our bodies (including the central nervous system) and technology itself has come to be regarded as the great panacea for all ills.
    To the extent to which machines already dominate our thinking, behaviour and psychology, we are already merging with them.
    But an even bigger worry concerns the organisations and rich, powerful (often sociopathic or worse) individuals who own and seemingly control their deployment.
    Forward (or maybe its backward in some sense!) into the future!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Rob. You eloquently express the ambivalence, you, I, and many, I’m certain, feel re: the power our culture surrendered to machines and machine-like processes that now control our lives.
      Can openers, that made me chuckle. It’s a tool needing a hand’s application.
      Re: hands, there is a particular line in Rilke’s sonnet that rings … Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand …
      Like translators do, I took some liberty here. The German line is … Dass nicht der herrlichen Hand schoneres Zogern mehr prange …
      Literally this translates more like … That no more the splendid hand’s beautiful hesitancy shines.
      Long live poetry …


  3. David Selzer

    The translation reads well, if I may so, Ashen. Might this be included in your contribution to OTHER PEOPLE’S FLOWERS in the autumn?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my, Ashen. I didn’t know you translated poetry from German. And Rilke, Goethe and Hesse? This is a beautiful translation. It strikes me this topic might be a great contribution to the new book I’m considering. I wonder if you’d be interested? Do you know the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden? In it, a man who owns a mill (one of the earliest machines that helped bring on the Industrial Age) promises to give the devil whatever’s in his front yard in return for wealth. It turns out to be his daughter. All eventually ends well for her, but it’s a parable about the dangers of machine-worship, now more than ever. Without sleep and dreams we’d go mad, indeed……. Jeanie

    Liked by 1 person

    • I only do translations occasionally ☼ Thanks for your appreciation.
      Yes I know of the Fairy Tale you mention. It seems water plays an important role in it. It reminds of another tale where sudden riches endanger a poor old wood cutter. The Sufi Tale of the Mushkilgusha comes to mind, also my handle on Twitter. Water is an interesting feature there too, in the form of a stream, dividing two realities.
      Thanks for your invitation to take part in an interesting project. Let me know how its shape progresses, and if I can contribute in any way I’ll do my best.


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