Rilke: Translating "What Survives" into German

Rilke, 1900

What a journey! In the first (and impressive) episode of the brand new SyFy series "The Magicians" a character is reciting a German poem (48:22). Well, at least this is supposed to be the case, as a matter of fact I was not sure if this is German, some historical slavian fantasy estonian or just made up sounds. But then, there were some sentences that could be understood: "Die Quantenstufe? Wer sagt, dass alle verschwinden müssen? Wer weiße moglikerweise der Flug der Vogels der sie verletzte überreste? Unde möglikerweise überleben Blumen" Apparently, this was a quote from a famous German poet and wizard named "Rachkach." ... Well. I never heard this name before, nor was I sure if this was a name at all. A famous german poet with an interest in occultism? Goethe comes to mind, but in English it is generally pronounced more like "Go-theee" so I could not find a link to "Rachkach".
Google was not helpful for the first 20 minutes. I found a source, indeed, but it was a cambridge master thesis with the topic "Christ Among Them: Incarnation and Renaissance in Medieval Italian Culture" by Edoardo Mungiello from 2008. But, reading this, the German is not better here, maybe it is a product by Google Translate:

Wer sagt, daß alle verschwinden müssen? Weir weiß, möglicherweise
der Flug des Vogels verwunden Sie des Remains und möglicherweise
überleben Blumen Liebskosungen in uns, In ihrem Boden.

Es is nicht die Geste, die dauert, aber es kleidet Sie wieder in der
Goldrüstung - von Brust zu knie- Und die Schacht war – ein Engel
trägt ihn nach Ihnen so rein.

—Was Überlebt, Rainer Maria Rilke. 

But, at least, a name, or make that two: The author seems to be the Austrian poetrist Rainer Maria Rilke, english possibly pronounced as Rachkach, and he is indeed one of the most famous poets of the German language (and indeed with a profound interest in occultism). And the poem seems to be "Was überlebt". But after searching this for 20 other minutes: There seems to be no poem with this name by Rilke. So how could this be? Two sources with several years distance between them, both quoting the same miswritten poem - and nothing else? Maybe it was a backtranslation from English to a supposed-to-be German - so I tried searching for Rilke poems with keywords like Goldrüstung or Engel or Blume or Vogelflug. Nothing. So, maybe this is not by Rilke at all, so I tried searching for German poems in general with these keywords. Nothing. ... Well. Maybe... it is... an English poem, mistaken for a German one? So I googled "What survives" and "Rilke" - and tadaa: Here it is. 

Who says that all must vanish?
Who knows, perhaps the flight
of the bird you wound remains,
and perhaps flowers survive
caresses in us, in their ground.

It isn't the gesture that lasts,
but it dresses you again in gold
armor --from breast to knees--
and the battle was so pure
an Angel wears it after you.

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by A. Poulin 

The comments on this site helped me with the rest: Apparently, Rilke wrote several hundreds of his poems in French. This one was beautifully translated by the american poet Alfred Poulin and seems to be quite popular in the English speaking world. So, well, this is the original version:

Qui te dit que tout disparaisse? 
De l'oiseau que tu blesses, 
Qui sait s'il ne reste le vol? 
Et peut-être les fleurs des caresses 
Survivent à nous, de leur sol. 

Ce n'est pas le geste qui dure, 
Mais il nous revêt de l'armure 
D'or, des flancs aux genoux, 
Et tant la bataille fut pure, 
qu'un Ange la porte après vous. 

That was hard work to find it and I am quite surprised it was. But as a favor for you English speaking guys I will translate the french poem to correct and somewhat nice German now -so you can quote it in your favorite language in the next tv series - I try to keep the wording similar to the quasi canonical translation I found two sources for...

Wer sagt uns, dass alles verschwinden wird?
Wer weiß, ob des Vogels Flug
bestehen bleibt, wenn Du ihn verletzt, 
und vielleicht überleben die Blumen
die Liebkosungen in uns, in ihrem Boden.

Es ist nicht die Geste, die dauert
jedoch, sie kleidet Dich erneut in Harnisch, 
golden von der Brust bis zu den Knien,
und die Schlacht war so rein
Dass ein Engel sie nach Dir trug.

Rainer Maria Rilke (übersetzt von Daniel Stein)

Image: Rilke, 1900

Comments

Comment: 

Hey Daniel, I've referenced this over on the IMDb boards for "The Magicians" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4254242/board/nest/251660298

Thanks for this!

 

Comment: 

Thank you and sorry for the delayed approval... :-( Unfortunatly, the link does not work anymore.

Comment: 

Dear Daniel,

Very glad you posted this short history on a topic close to my heart.  Thank you.

I am no good at memorization, but have been trying to get this poem stuck in my head for years now.  Tonight, as in months and years past, I directed myself to a bookmarked translation online (http://worlds-poetry.com), to check in with Rilke and read to myself aloud.  But to my surprise I was directed to go-daddy telling me the site is for sale!

I have the words "Was Überlebt" tattooed on my left shoulder, to help me stay connected to those lovely surviving dingen of my departed loved ones.  All this time, I thought Reiner wrote the original auf Deutsch.  But NO, the intenet tricked me!  Engraved, forever, a mistake, a tattoo of a translation.  Fast so schlecht als a misspelled tattoo (almost, but not quite).

Now, it seems the internet has given me truth.  I must love truth, even wann es tut weh. 

And now, steeling myself against a lifetime of being tattooed in error, I tell myself: wirklichkeit, in the begining, and maybe in the end, life ist nicht mehr als ein wunderschön fehler.

Comment: 

Dear T-Bone,
thank you very much for your comment, I am so sorry for the late approval - as a matter of fact I just haven't seen the comments while drowning in spam. :-( I am so happy that my research was meaningful to you, although I am sorry that the truth that I have given to you revealed the somewhat wrong tattoo ;) But on the other hand, this way it has some meaning aswell. Best!

Comment: 

I was so confused when I heard this weird half-German on The Magicians! No wonder I could barely understand what he said considering it wasn't even proper German. Thanks a lot for doing all the research and finding out about the origins of the poem, it definitely helped clear up my confusion after watching this part of the show! :)

Cheers!

Comment: 

Thanks for your feedback, I am glad I was able to help you here :) You are very welcome

Comment: 

I was researching this myself when I came upon your well-written article and translation.  Thank you!

Valarie

Comment: 

You are welcome, Valerie, thanks for the feedback!