Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rilke, Vacations, & Push-Ups

Vacations usually murmur to me what that archaic six-pack said to Rilke:  "You must change your life."  This year, though, the family trip was less inspiring, more confirming:  something's already changing, it said.  Slowly, somewhere, out of sight, you're settling down.  Enjoy it.


How many of my students would recognize that reference to Rilke, I wonder?  Back in 2003 I assembled my own anthology of poems for ENG 220 (Reading Poetry), organized more or less historically, running from Sappho (in translation, of course) to the present, with Rilke in the mix.  The idea was to teach an "Introduction to Poetry" course that reached outside the Anglo-American tradition, giving students a bit more cultural literacy than they acquire in my usual courses, which emphasize close reading skills. 

Is "cultural literacy" what I mean, exactly?  They learned some of the big names, yes, the reference points--but more than that, they got a whiff, like incense, of the romance of poetry.  That was the plan, anyway.

Like most of my more innovative syllabi, this one got abandoned at some point.  I don't remember why.  Maybe I should try it out again.


Archaic  Torso  of  Apollo
Rainer  Maria  Rilke
Translated  by  Stephen  Mitchell                                        

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power.Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you.  You must change your life.
That's not quite rhythmically steady enough, in English, to use for counting push-ups--not like Blake's "The Tyger," for example, which I've blogged about elsewhere.  

Still, it could be motivating.  I'm getting more archaic by the day!

No comments: