… ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation …

Last month I shared my translation of one of R M Rilke’s Sonnets. Following on, I dug up the poem ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by Rilke, thinking that after our dark moon phase, we could do well with connecting to the Carmen spirit so powerfully expressed in the flamenco dance. When translating poems from German I mainly disregard form & rhyme, instead I try and lift the feeling and essence I experience while reading.

The wonderful image is from a 2014 photo exhibition I saw in Amsterdam. So sorry, I don’t have the photographer’s name.

SPANISH DANCER

As a match, struck by the hand, white,

before turning to flame, breaks out

into flickering tongues, so within

the circle of close onlookers begins,

quickening, bright and hot, her spiral

dance to flicker and catch.

And suddenly it is flame, fully flame.

With one glance she ignites her hair

and in an instant swirls with daring skill

her entire dress into this ardent blaze

from which, like startled serpents, her

naked arms dart alive, rattling.

And then: as if the fire might relent, 

she gathers it all in and casts it off,

imperious, with a gesture of contempt,

and sees: there, raging on the ground

it lies flaring on and will not submit.

But victorious, assured, with a sweet,

hailing smile she raises her face

and stamps the blaze, with small, firm feet.

Spanische Tanzerin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Neue Gedichte, 1907

Translation: Ashen Venema

Spanische Tänzerin

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzündholz, weiß,
eh es zur Flamme kommt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiß
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plötzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem: Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -.
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süßen
grüßenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
Und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füßen.

Aus: Neue Gedichte (1907)

Also, seven years ago I shared here my English translation of Goethe’s Zauberlehring, an ever relevant theme, now more so than ever. https://courseofmirrors.com/2014/10/09/the-sorcerers-apprentice/

6 Comments

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6 responses to “… ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation …

  1. Your translation is excellent, thank you. I love Flamenco 💃, the guitar and the dancer together. Creating so much emotion and fire.

    Miriam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rob

    Wow! That really evokes the feeling of fire and dance together…..like one single entity and for some reason, the final three lines especially.
    About 15 years ago I was participating in a 2 week workshop at a fairly remote hill farm in Wales. On the final night, everyone was relaxing after all the intensity and a burly Scottish piper and a comely young Irish lady, brandishing fire in each of her hands, spontaneously put forth the fire dance as our all-seeing god was setting.
    Man it was special!
    Thankyou Ashen. Don’t know German but I reckon you must have translated Rilkie Baby good-style!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Rob. A fire dance, yes, this sounds special. Remember the Carmen and Simon Bolivar workshop at F.W. … two great archetypes, and later Theresa with her flamenco workshops?
      While living in Amsterdam I did a Katak course, a beautiful Indian dance, very expressive, involving eye movements, arms, fingers. Stomping the ground with one’s heels was particularly satisfying, with bells around the ankle.

      Like

  3. Elmer Koole

    Love your Rilke translation!

    Liked by 1 person

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