Ich glaube meine Stellung zur Philosophie dadurch zusammengefaßt zu haben, indem ich sagte: Philosophie dürfte man eigentlich nur dichten. Daraus muß sich, scheint mir, ergeben, wie weit mein Denken der Gegenwart, Zukunft, oder der Vergangenheit angehört. Denn ich habe mich damit auch als einen bekannt, der nicht ganz kann, was er zu können wünscht.
I think I summed up my position on philosophy when I said that philosophy really should be written only as a form of poetry. From this it should be clear to what extent my thinking belongs to the present, the future, or the past. For with this assertion, I have also revealed myself as someone who cannot quite do what he would like to do.
–Culture and Value, 1933-34
(Another analysis of this passage occurs in the final section, “The End of Philosophy,” of a Doro Franck essay on style; Franck translates the last sentence more accurately as “For I was thereby revealing myself as someone who cannot quite do what he would like to be able to do [my emphasis].”) Perloff begins with a fascinating discussion of the problems involved in translating a line of Rilke:
We usually think of the ‘poetic’ as that which cannot fully translate, that which is uniquely embedded in its particular language. The poetry of Rainer Marie Rilke is a case in point. The opening line of the Duino Elegies —
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus den Engel Ordnungen? —
has been translated into English literally dozens of times, but, as William Gass points out in his recent Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation, none of the translations seem satisfactory. Here are a few examples:
J. B. Leishman (1930) —
Who, if I cried, would hear me among the
A. J. Poulin (1977) —
And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic orders?
Stephen Cohn (1989) —
Who, if I cried out, would hear me — among the ranked Angels?
Gass is very critical of these, but his own is, to my ear, no better:
Who if I cried, would hear me among the Dominions of Angels?
The difficulty, as I have suggested elsewhere, is that English syntax does not allow for the dramatic suspension of Wer, wenn ich schriee… and that the noun phrase Engel Ordnungen, which in German puts the stress, both phonically and semantically, on the angels themselves rather than their orders or hierarchies or dominions, defies effective translation. Moreover, Rilke’s line contains the crucial and heavily stressed word denn (literally ‘then’), which here has the force of ‘Well, then’ or, in contemporary idiom, ‘So,’ as in ‘So, who would hear me if I cried out…?’ But the translators cited above seem not to know what to do with denn and hence lose the immediacy of the question. Then, too, denn rhymes with wenn as well as the first two syllables of den Engel, creating a dense sonic network inevitably lost in translation.
She follows this with a discussion of Hans Magnus Enzensberger‘s translation of William Carlos Williams’s “Between Walls“; only then does she begin considering Wittgenstein. She finishes with two highly unliteral versions of the Rilke poem, the second of which begins: “I hate this place. If I were to throw a fit, who/ among the seven thousand starlets in Hollywood/ would give a flying fuck?” Much food for thought throughout.