"German Translations" of Rilke by Suzanne O'Connell

I was stuck in a writing rut.  Same old words, boring, dutiful, not having any fun.  I’m passing along something that helped me find my creative jag again, helped me stop criticizing every word I wrote, because I had no expectations!  I decided to “translate” Rilke, only the words in German, and I speak no German.  I could have used Spanish or Italian, but figured many of the words would be familiar enough for me to guess. I wanted to freely “translate” in an unfamiliar language. I chose The Poetry of Rilke, translated and edited by Edward Snow, opened the book at random, no cheating by peeking at them English on the right hand side. 


I opened the book just now to page 118,

“Das Lied Der Witwe.” 

The first line:

“Am anfang war mer das Leben gut,” could become:

Dean Anfang, I no longer have the guts for war.

The translations took me to strange places I would never

have visited if not for this device.  It got me unstuck.

Maybe it could be useful to you.


Here are examples of two of the translations, previously

published by The Found Poetry Review:




Ancestral thug, King Arthur of the sloth world,

I salute you!


My knight in leather pantaloons,

I sing your praises.


You have made ugliness hot.

You know how to throw your man-muscles around,


how to impress the ladies with your slick sword.

You are never lonely, the girls flock to you.


You can inflate your insides and swim across rivers!

What prowess, my leathery hero.


 Just one thing I can’t understand. How do you bed your Guinevere?


How do you push aside your thick armor

to reveal your tender places?


Oh my macho rabbit in a turtle’s shell, 

I have known so many men like you!





A brick might be thrown at your Volkswagen.

Oh, my generation of mud!

The nights here can be so hot!

I’ll tousle your hair if you gaze upon the welts on my thigh!


Remember when every night was summer?

Remember when my whistle was sharp?

Remember the days when we ate cheese all night,

in the bathtub with Willie?


I was once the teacher and now it seems I am the pupil.

Sick laughter and bile rise, my girl!

Come sit on the glider with me and breathe a while.

Let me tell you what I have seen.



Suzanne O'ConnellSuzanne O’Connell’s recently published work can be found in North American Review, Poet Lore, The Menacing Hedge, and Steam Ticket.  Her new poetry collection, What Luck, was published by Garden Oak Press. Suzanne O'Connell contributed to North American Review, 304.2.