From WTP Vol. VI #4
SONNETS TO ORPHEUS, Part One, 14
Rainer Maria Rilke
Translation by Art Beck
We’re companions to the flower, the vine leaf,
the fruit. They don’t just speak the changing language
of the seasons. But a multi-colored revelation that climbs
from darkness with a glint, perhaps, of the envy
of the dead who loam and fortify the earth.
How can we ever guess their share
in this? It’s their ancient nature to mingle
and marry their liberated marrow with the clay.
So you have to ask yourself: Is this something
they want to do? Is it the work of laboring slaves –
the fruit forced up like a clenched fist to us, their masters
above? Or are they the masters? The ones who sleep
in the roots and grant us out of their abundance
this hybrid of speechless strength and kisses.
Art Beck has published three books of original poetry, most recently Summer With All Its Clothes Off (Gravida, 2005). His Luxorius Opera Omnia (versions of the sixth century c.e. Latin epigrammist, published by Otis College) won the 2013 Northern California Book Award for poetry in translation. He was one of two finalists awarded Honorable Mention in the American Literary Translators Association 2018 Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. A book-length selection of his Rilke translations was published by Elysian Press in 1983, in a series edited by Dana Gioa, and he published an article on Rilke in Jacket Magazine. His work has appeared in numours anthologies and journals, including Translation Review, Two Lines, Artful Dodge, Alaska Quarterly and the 2004 anthology, California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present.