Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Rainer Maria Rilke's Parisian Panther

On 4th December 1874 the great Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke first saw the light of day. He was born in Prague. He became arguably the finest German-language poet of his generation.
In order to celebrate Rilke's birthday here's a Poet-in-Residence translation of a poem written by Rilke in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris and published in Rilke's Neue Gedichte (New Poems) in 1907. The poet appears to have a great depth of feeling for the plight of the imprisoned creature.

The Panther

His view, from passing the bars,
has become so tiring that he no longer
looks, it's as if there are a thousand bars
and beyond those thousand bars no world.

The supple walk, the soft strong steps
that turn in smallest circles
as a dance of strength, and deadened
in the centre the great will stands.

Sometimes the curtain slides off the pupils,
opens silently, and in goes a picture
that goes through the limbs with a silent tension
that has to be heard in his heart.

And now the original

Sein Blick ist von Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält
Ihm ist, als ob er tausend Stäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um ein Mitte
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf,- Dann geht ein Bild hinein
geht durch der Glieder angespante Stille -
und hört in Herzen auf zu sein.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1874-1926)


  1. Reading The Panther in the light of your earlier post re writing about an animal - well it is so beautiful (and sad) that it makes you want to give up trying. I hardly dare to say this in the same breath but your post inspired me to try and write a poem about my dog. Have done so and put it on my blog! Wish I hadn't read The Panther as it makes me fell like rubbing my effort off!!

  2. There are other translations of course. There's one on the Wondering Minstrels link. It's very different. Sometimes I think some translators try to put in too much of themselves and somehow lose the beauty of the original.
    Will have a look at your dog poem soonest!
    Thanks for your other comment too. Crows are lovely! They are one of nature's comedians. They are not the harbingers of death they are made out to be. Crows get a bad press. Some poets are to blame for this sad state of affairs.

  3. try this one:


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.