Evening – a Rilke translation by Susan McLean

by Rainer Maria Rilke

The evening slowly changes its attire,
held for it by a border of old trees.
You watch the realms depart from you and veer
away: one falls and one ascends the skies. 

They leave you, who don’t quite belong to either,
not quite as dark as the silent house, not quite
as surely calling forth what lasts forever
as that which turns to star and climbs each night.

They leave you inexpressibly unwinding
your life—enormous, ripening, tinged with fear—
now limited in scope, now comprehending,
by turns becoming stone in you and star.


Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder,
die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält;
du schaust: und von dir scheiden sich die Länder,
ein himmelfahrendes, und eins, das fällt;

und lassen dich, zu keinen ganz gehörend,
nicht ganz so dunkel wie das Haus, das schweigt,
nicht ganz so sicher Ewiges beschwörend
wie das, was Stern wird jede Nacht und steigt;

und lassen dich (unsäglich zu entwirrn)
dein Leben bang und riesenhaft und reifend,
so daß es, bald begrenzt und bald begreifend,
abwechselnd Stein in dir wird und Gestirn.

Susan McLean, professor emerita of English at Southwest Minnesota State University, has published two books of poetry, The Best Disguise and The Whetstone Misses the Knife, and one book of translations of the Latin poet Martial.  Her translations of Rilke have appeared in SubtropicsTransferencePresence, and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew says:

    My German is rudimentary but even I can tell this is a much better translation than Edward Snow’s. Thank you.


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