all she carries within her

1:00 PM Posted by James Owens


Enfant en Rouge

Parfois elle traverse le village dans sa petite robe rouge,
toute absorbée à se contenir,
mais, malgré elle, on dirait qu'elle bouge
selon un rythme de sa vie à venir.

Elle court un peu, hésite, s'arrête,
fait demi-tour...,
et tout en rêvant secoue sa tête
contre ou pour.

Puis elle fait quelques pas d'une danse
qu'elle ébauche et oublie,
trouvant sans doute que la vie
trop vite avance.

Ce n'est pas tant qu'elle sorte
de son petit corps qui l'enferme,
mais tout ce qu'en elle elle porte
joue et germe...

C'est de cette robe qu'elle va se rappeler plus tard
dans un doux abandon;
quand toute sa vie sera pleine de hasards,
la petite robe rouge aura toujours raison.

Rainer Maria Rilke
La migration des forces

Girl in Red

At times she walks through the village in her little red dress,
trying hard to contain herself,
but she seems to move, nevertheless,
to some rhythm from her future life.

She runs a bit, hesitates, pauses,
half-turns back again….
dreaming, shakes her head, refuses
pro or con.

Then she sketches a few steps of a dance
that she invents and forgets,
finding life at once
moves on too fast.

It’s not so much that she might go
outside her body’s little enclosure,
but that all she carries within her
frolics and starts to grow.

Later, she will remember this dress,
when risk surrounds her life,
a sweet release—
the little red dress will always be right.

(my translation)



Roxana said...


OH again :-)

it's wonderful, i had no idea about this poem... and i absolutely love the translation!

and now i feel the sudden, impossible to contain urge of taking a picture of a girl in a red dress :-), no, of THE girl in the red dress...

James Owens said...

Thank you, Roxana.

A picture of THE girl in the red dress, I'd like to see that :-)

Gigi said...

What a wonderful translation. I read it last night, then again this morning with slightly more rested eyes. Each time I was so taken with that final stanza. It is so true . . . I don't have a word for it except true. Thank you.

James Owens said...

Thank you, Gigi. I'm glad you liked it. For some reason, I've become more and more interested in translation recently, and I've been reading a lot in Rilke's French poems. (And I'm happy that he wrote them, since I read German only very badly indeed.) R had such an acute talent for imagining a way into the lives of others. There are several poems, in the book where I found this one, in which he enters the minds of women and girls. I couldn't testify about his success from a feminine POV, but they do seem extraordinary poems to me.....

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Enjoyed this translation, James. Rilke is rich, sound-driven, and this translation is as well.

suzi said...

Lovely, but I couldn't help but think of 'Le petit chaperon rouge' - the earlier, more sinister telling of the story. Thanks for posting.

James Owens said...

Thank you, Sam. I would like to capture Rilke's sound, but I'm afraid this translation is only très approximative, as an old professor of mine used to say, scornfully. It's amazing that Rilke in French still sounds like Rilke. I think I've read in one of the biographies that, as a young man, he wrote a few poems in Russian (and considered moving to Russia). I wouldn't be able to say anything about those, even if I could find them, but I wonder if he is still recognizably himself.... It isn't all that hard to think of writers who have written in two languages --- but in three languages? Nabokov (though he didn't write much in French). Roman Polanski has written screenplays in three languages. Hmmm.....

James Owens said...

Suzi: Interesting.... I had not made the connection with 'Le petit chaperon rouge', but of course you are quite right. The poem is a retelling of that story, whether Rilke meant it to be or not. A young girl goes out into the world dressed in red, with all the cultural and psychological associations of that colour --- danger, sensuality, menstruation, the attraction of attention, etc. Carrying her basket of goodies. And dangers await, the wolf, the hours when risk will afflict her life.... Thank you for bringing this to my attention.