Herbsttag (Autumn Day)

posted in: Journal, Poetry | 2
Orkney Quoyloo Window View
View from a friend’s cottage window in Quoyloo, the Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

In 1991, while attending a writer’s gathering I was invited to in Glenbrook, New Hampshire, Walter Clark recited this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, and favorite poems:

HerbsttagHerr:

Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Fruechten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei suedlicher Tage,
draenge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Suesse in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein is, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin and her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blaetter treiben.

It is difficult to translate into English the inherently melancholy voice of the German language and even more difficult to ascribe the longer rhythms and consonant rich sound of German words that Rilke uses so masterfully in his poems. It is simply impossible to bring across the full beauty of Rilke’s poems in English. For the sake of most of the readers of this weblog, I’ve made my own attempt:

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The Summer was so grand.
Lay thy shadows upon the sundials,
and upon the fields let the winds loose.

Allow the last fruit to grow full;
give them yet two southerly days,
press them through completion and throw
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house, builds none more.
Who now is alone, will so long remain,
will wake, read, write long letters
and in the alleyways two and fro
restlessly wander, as the leaves drift down.


German books are still published in small formats that are easy to carry in pockets. Japanese books, too. When I introduced a Japanese friend to The Lord of the Rings series last year, at first she recoiled when she saw the huge paperback volume in the English section of Kinokuniya, the giant six story bookstore in downtown Tokyo. “It’s too heavy!” she protested. “Who’s going to carry around a lump like that?” She was reassured, however, when she went downstairs and discovered that the Japanese versions had been split into seven volumes, each small enough to slip into her purse’s side pocket.

I’m puzzled why western book companies now issue most of their books in these huge bricks that barely fit into your bag and add up to the equivalent of a weightlifter’s barbell when stuffing a bag for school or work. During the Second World War publishers distributed the newly designed “pocket books” so that soldiers might carry a volume in their back pockets, but the mobility of these books still holds true today. Not only would carrying the latest edition of the Harry Potter series while walking the mountains make my pack a lot lighter (no I don’t bring such big books into the mountains!), but it would certainly make having books shipped from Amazon.com in the States here to Japan a lot cheaper.

2 Responses

  1. Marlis

    Hi,
    this is also one of my favorite Rilke poems……
    About people not responding to your blog these days? Maybe they need a respite from the intensity or want to check out other blogs? they might come back….. I like the intensity of your descriptions of places and feelings.
    Maybe sometimes your blogs get too personal? For ex. about your diabetes? but then I don´t really know what a blog is supposed to do…..
    til next time
    Marlis

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