Death Experienced

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Susan McLean

We know nothing about this going hence,
which shares nothing with us. We’ve no foundation
for showing hate or love and reverence
toward death, whose mask of tragic lamentation

strangely disfigures him. The world is still
full of roles we play. As long as we
worry about performing pleasingly,
death playacts, too, but does not please at all.

But when you went, then into this staged scene
a streak of authenticity burst through
that crack you left by: green of real green,
genuine sunshine, real forest, too.

We go on acting. Fearfully we say
our hard-learned lines, and gesture now and then,
but, far removed from us and from our play,
your own transported state of being can

come over us at times like knowledge sent
below from that reality: we pause,
carried away awhile in ravishment,
and act our life not thinking of applause.

Susan McLean

Susan McLean, a retired professor of English from Southwest Minnesota State University, has published two books of poetry, The Best Disguise (2009) and The Whetstone Misses the Knife (2014), as well as one book of translations of the Latin poet Martial, Selected Epigrams (2014). Her poetry has won the Richard Wilbur Award and the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, and her book of translations was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Translation Award. Her translations have also appeared in Transference, First Things, Presence, Subtropics, Measure, and elsewhere.

'Death Experienced' has 1 comment

  1. November 24, 2019 @ 12:52 pm Ned Balbo

    A powerful translation remarkable for its ease and clarity–unsurprising to anyone who knows Susan McLean’s poetry or her vivid, witty, and compelling versions of Martial.


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