Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Variation on “To Say To Go To Sleep” - R. Jarrell

 This is sort of a "two-fer": Randall Jarrell's riff (in English) on a poem (in German) by Rainer Maria Rilke.  It shows both Jarrell's skills as both a poet and a translator (in addition to being an essayist, critic, and novelist).   Love - romantic love - is not his domain: his best work, to me, are his war/post-war poems.  In his collected poems, there are - barely - a half-dozen poems I would classify as "love poetry", not counting his translations of Rilke.  Of those, this one is my pick.  It speaks to aspects of love that aren't the most "glamorous" but are the most necessary: to feel safe and protected.  Jarrell was only 51 years old when he died in 1965.
A Variation on “To Say To Go To Sleep”

                                                                            (adapted from Rainer Maria Rilke)
If I could, I would sing you to sleep.
I would give you my hand to keep
In yours till you fell asleep,
And take it away then, slowly.
I would sit by you and be.

In the world the dark would be deep.
I would watch. And at last I would sleep.

But if rain should star the stream
Of your sleep, I would whisper: “See
You are asleep”; and slowly,
Your breath would change in your dream
Till, ages and ages deep
In the dark, you would say to me:
“I love you.”
I love you,
But I am here always. Sleep now. Sleep.
                                                                                Randall Jarrell - American

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