I recently undertook a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem, "Der Schwan". My intention was to translate it from English into Spanish, but I had some questions about prior English translations, so I set out to understand the poem in its original German. The problem is, aside from "guten Tag", I know very little German. I began with a literal, word-for-word translation from German into English. I then studied many of the German words and their deeper meanings and tried to understand the essence of Rilke's poem. I also sought input from friends who speak German, and I received some wonderful input and feedback. Helge Moulding offered profound advice, explaining that Rilke "stacked" words in German in order to create new words and deeper meanings, which makes some of the translation difficult. Helge also provided input on some of my original word choices. After considering the input I received, I am posting the translation below. That's not to say that it is complete. I am open to further input and revisions. Thanks to all who provided feedback. (Additional note: I know that Rilke used rhythmic meter in the original poem. I am not skilled enough to both rhyme and capture the soul of the poem, so I instead opted for free-verse.)
by Rainer Maria Rilke
(Translation by K. Wasden)
As he toils at tasks left undone,
his steps are heavy and hindered,
like the graceless gait of the Swan.
And dying–that detachment from
the ground on which we daily stand–
he descends apprehensively
into the water that receives him gently,
as it flows past happily
beneath him, wave after wave,
as he, infinitely calm and certain,
evermore ready and regal,
consents to pass.
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