Sunday, September 13, 2009

Poem of the Week: "Autumn Day" by Rainer Maria Rilke

In honor of Fall beginning to settle upon us (well, not officially, but it's starting to feel like Autumn nonetheless), I have decided to share a poem about the subject. Many of you may know that Rainer Maria Rilke is one of my absolute favorite writers, and the author of my favorite poems, the Duino Elegies. This particular poem, "Autumn Day" ("Herbsttag" in the original German) is one of my favorite Rilke pieces. I once had a friend who loved this poem so much that she memorized it within a day and could just drop it whenever she liked. This poem always reminds me of her and the autumn we spent together in a poetry class, collecting work we liked and chatting about Rilke once a week during an early lunch.

This poem is a bit of a downer, but the language is quite beautiful and honest. This particular translation is by Stephen Mitchell, who is personally my favorite translator of Rilke. I have seem some absolutely atrocious published translations of "Autumn Day," so I wanted to make sure I posted the one I liked best. Translation is a tricky business, and Rilke is considered one of the hardest poets to properly translate. Mitchell does a good job staying true enough to the source without losing the music or beauty. Also, he tries to keep some semblance of a rhyme scheme, although you can see it's not perfect. For those of you who'd like to see it in the original German, you can find it here.

Autumn Day, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Lord: it is time. The huge summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
and on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruits to swell on tree and vine;
grant them a few more warm transparent days.
urge them on to fulfillment then, and press
the final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no house now, will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
will sit, read, write long letters through the evening,
and wander on the boulevards, up and down,
restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.


  1. How do you like this one:

  2. I do like that translation, particularly the first verse, which is quite lyrical. Great job! Everyone check it out.