Like the swan’s anxious letting himself down

From Rainer Maria Rilke’s New Poems – with the English translation of Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebman.  Incidentally, Kinnell’s rendering of Francois Villon is one of the best I’ve tried.

Der Schwan

Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes
schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehn,
gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.

Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehn,
seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen-:

in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen,
unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut;
während er unendlich still und sicher
immer mündiger und königlicher
und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

The Swan

This drudgery of trudging through tasks
yet undone, heavily, as if bound,
is like the swan’s not fully created walking.

And dying, this no longer being able
to hold to the ground we stand on every day,
like the swan’s anxious letting himself down –

into the waters, which gently accept him
and, as if happy and already in the past,
draw away under him, ripple upon ripple,
while he, now utterly quiet and sure
and ever more mature and regal
and composed, is pleased to glide.

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