Art & Design Magazine

Rilke and Slevogt: The Panther

By Adventuresintheprinttrade
As soon as I saw this etching by Max Slevogt of a black panther, I thought of Rainer Maria Rilke's 1902 or 1903 poem Der Panther, written as a response to Rilke's friend Rodin's urging to work directly from life. So as I had a bit of time on holiday this week, I tried to make my own version of Rilke's poem. I wouldn't call it a translation, as apart from retaining the four quatrains, I have ignored the form of the original - the meter and the rhyme. The best proper translation I know is that of my late friend Stephen Cohn in Neue Gedichte: New Poems (Carcanet, 1992). I didn't have this with me while I sat and struggled with the hilarious responses of Google Translate, but I did have the sensitive translation of Susan Ranson from Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems (OUP, 2011). Back home I have taken the precaution of checking Google's grasp of German with the literal prose translation of Patrick Bridgwater in Twentieth-Century German Verse (Penguin, 1963). Any boo-boos remain, of course, my own.
Rilke and Slevogt: The PantherMax Slevogt (1868-1932), Schwarzer PantherEtching (with three extra panthers as drypoint remarques), 1914
THE PANTHERJardin des Plantes, Paris
His barred eyes have grown so tiredof pacing, they have emptied out.As if there were a thousand barsand beyond those thousand bars, a hollowness.
The supple flexure of his paws,revolving in an ever-tightening gyre,creates a passionate dance aroundthe still center of his fierce, numbed will.
Just sometimes, the shutter of his lenslifts, without a sound.An image enters, pulses through the coiled spring of his sinews,and winks out in his heart’s great silence.translation © copyright Neil Philip 2014

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