The Orangery Stairs

By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Susan McLean


Like kings who ultimately merely pace,
almost without a goal, unless to show
themselves at times in robes of loneliness
to those who bow to them on both sides, so,

alone between the balustrades, which bowed
already from the start, the stairs rise there,
deliberately and by the grace of God,
ascending heavenward and toward nowhere,

as if they bid all followers to remain
behind, so that they would not dare pursue
them, even from afar, not even to
allow someone to bear the heavy train.

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.

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