Friday, October 30, 2009

Der Panther

While I'm on this big cat poetry jag, here's one more personal favorite, Der Panther by Rainer Maria Rilke. I looked for and found several pictures to go with this post, but somehow they seem to disrespect the poem. There are a number of fine translations, each having its merits, but I'm going with this one today.

The Panther

In the Jardin des Plantes, Paris

From seeing the bars, his seeing is so exhausted
that it no longer holds anything anymore.
To him the world is bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
which circles down to the tiniest hub
is like a dance of energy around a point
in which a great will stands stunned and numb.

Only at times the curtains of the pupil rise
without a sound . . . then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart, and dies.

translation by Robert Bly


  1. This poem also came to my mind when you posted The Tiger. It's another favorite of mine. I don't like the way Bly translated the first line though; it's clunky. Then again, I don't envy people who try to translate poems. In German, this is a rhyming poem, and the rhyme is important to give you the rhythm of a pacing cat behind bars. Unfortunately, when you try to translate it, it's hard enough to get the right words, let alone find ones that rhyme.


  2. Yes, and I read and reread the various translations, with much admiration for each. I suppose it's a measure of a poem's greatness that it works even apart from the original sounds and language.