Rilke, Two Animals Poems

Rilke, ca. 1900

[My translations of two well-known zoo animal poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. The Phryne mentioned in the second poem was a famously beautiful Greek courtesan of fourth century BC Thespiae in Boeotia.]

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

His glance has become so weary
from the bars’ pacing that it holds nothing any more.
He feels as if there were a thousand bars
and behind the thousand nothing.

The soft walk of lithe strong paces,
turning in tiniest of circles,
is like a dance of power around a centre
where a great will stands anaesthetised.

Only occasionally the pupil’s curtain
soundlessly rises. – Then an image enters,
travels through the limbs’ tensed stillness,
and ceases in the heart.

The Flamingos

Jardin des Plantes, Paris

In mirror images as in Fragonard
of their white and their redness
no more is given than someone could offer
if he said of his lover: she was

still soft with sleep. For when they step into the green
and stand, on pink stems slightly turned,
together, blossoming, as in a garden bed,
they seduce more seductively than Phryne

themselves; till necking down they conceal
the paleness of their eyes in their own softness
where black and fruit-red hides.

All at once an envy screeches through the aviary;
yet they have stretched amazed
and singly march into the imaginary.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 13, 2010.

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