Rilke in Translation: Uncovering the Panther in the English Language




Walter Benjamin’s influential essay, The Task of the Translator, reflects on how translation can be used to create new works of art and literature instead of attempting to create exact replicas of original works. Rather than translating by searching for words in the target language that are most equivalent to words in the original language, Benjamin encourages the practice of translation as a process which lets two languages influence and change one another. Using Benjamin as a guide, I attempt to create an English translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s German language poem “Der Panther” that distributes the meaning of the original work throughout the entire translation. To do this, I shift my focus away from translating words and phrases in isolation to reflect on how the effects of seemingly small translation choices reverberate through the work as a whole. I will also compare my translation to the historically important translations of “Der Panther” by Stephen Mitchell, Robert Bly, and C. F. MacIntyre, and argue how mine allows for analyses of themes such as stillness, the panther’s mental state, and the panther’s mind-body relation which more closely emulate Rilke’s original work.
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