Rainer Maria Rilke

Blue Hydrangea

Added 14 June 2004, Revised 2 July 2015

Everything below is thanks to Guntram Deichsel, who is always kindly sending me new stuff to add to my site. You will first find the poem in original German, then three translations into English. Guntram's colleague and friend Heide von Seefeld pinpointed this wonderful fall sonnet to him. He was inspired to a translation during a train ride from Biberach to Tübingen across the Swabian Alb, a melancholic landscape, on the verge of winter. Guntram's and Heide's common friend Jack Lohrmann, a native speaker of English living in Tübingen, did several final touches to Guntram's translation. Only afterwards Guntram found another translation by Bernhard Frank which is presented here by courtesy of the copyright holder.

Blaue Hortensie
Rainer Maria Rilke, July 1906, Paris

Blaue Hortensie

So wie das letzte Grün in Farbentiegeln
sind diese Blätter, trocken, stumpf und rau,
hinter den Blütendolden, die ein Blau
nicht auf sich tragen, nur von ferne spiegeln.

Sie spiegeln es verweint und ungenau,
als wollten sie es wiederum verlieren,
und wie in alten blauen Briefpapieren
ist Gelb in ihnen, Violett und Grau;

Verwaschenes wie an einer Kinderschürze,
Nichtmehrgetragenes, dem nichts mehr geschieht:
wie fühlt man eines kleinen Lebens Kürze.

Doch plötzlich scheint das Blau sich zu verneuen
in einer von den Dolden, und man sieht
ein rührend Blaues sich vor Grünem freuen.

This translation is by Guntram Deichsel

Blue Hydrangea

Just like the last green in a colour pot
So are these leaves, withered and wrecked
Behind the flower umbels, which reflect
A hue of blue only, more they do not.

Reflections are tear-stained, inaccurate,
As if they were about to cease,
And like old blue notepaper sheets
They wear some yellow, grey and violet,

Washed-out like on a children's apron,
Outworn and now no more in use:
We contemplate a small life's short duration.

But suddenly some new blue seemingly is seen
In just one umbel, and we muse
Over a moving blue delighting in the green.

Translation © by Guntram Deichsel, 2003-12-03

The following translation is by Jack Lohrmann, January 2004, taking a lot of license of Guntram's version

Just as the remnant green in tinted pot
So are these leaves, now rough and wrecked
Behind the flower umbels, that reflect
Only a hue of blue, more do they not.

Reflected are they, tear-stained, imperfect,
As if this they were prone to cease,
And as in blue and aged paper leaves
There´s yellow within, grey and violet.

Faded like a washed-out pinafore
No longer worn and of so little use:
How do we our too-short life endure.

But suddenly a blue renewed is seen
Among one of the umbels, and I sense
A blue delighted, smiling at the green.

This translation is by Bernhard Frank

Like in old cans of paint the last green hue,
these leaves are sere and rough and dull-complected
behind the blossom clusters in which blue
is not so much displayed as it's reflected;

They do reflect it imprecise and teary,
as though they'd rather have it go away,
and just like faded, once blue stationery,
they're tinged with yellow, violet and gray;

As in an often laundered children's smock,
cast off, its usefulness now all but over,
one senses running down a small life's clock.

Yet suddenly the blue revives, it seems,
and in among these clusters one discovers
a tender blue rejoicing in the green.

Translation by Bernhard Frank at http://www.germanic.ucla.edu/ngr/ngr13/trrilke.htm
Copyright 1997-1998: New German Review

This translation is by Kai Friese

An empty paint can's residue of green:
These leaves of dry and flaky faded hue
Beneath the blossoms, bristling the blue
They wear in borrowed coats, a reflected sheen.

Mirroring colour, flickering and teary,
As if they'd rather it just went away,
Blue, faded leaves of brittle stationery
Now stained with yellow, violet and grey.

An overwashed, discoloured childhood apron,
No longer worn. Kept, not for any use.
An infant life, now fades towards cessation.

But suddenly, a nascent blue is seen
In yet another blossom, now one views
The tranquil blue, delighting in the green.

You can find more on Blue Hydrangea at: http://www.nthuleen.com/papers/940Brilke.html

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