Orpheus and the Shadows of our Forgotten Ancestors; Rilke & Sergei Parajanov

The Kill

Far-conquering man . . . You’ve written, since you first
turned hunter, many a level new death-rule
of trap or net. Though I know the strip of sail
they hung into the caverns of the Karst,

so softly, like the flag of peace, or ceasefire . . .
Then, from the cave-mouth, a boy gave it a jerk
and tumbling dayward out of the cave-dark
came a handful of pale doves. This too is fair.

No one could take pity on their breath,
Least of all those men who raised their sights
and in that wakeful moment understood:

Our wandering sorrow takes the shape of death.
The spirit fallen into quietude
Knows that what befalls it must be right.

Don Paterson, a Scot and one of the greatest poets alive today, has created 'versions' of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, of which The Kill is one. They are not strict translations, but new structures built of what Paterson calls the 'vernacular architecture' of the originals. Rilke often suffers in English, and his translators are often criticised for making him wordy and cold, descriptives of his work not familiar to native German speakers. The sonnets were written over three weeks in 1922, whilst Rilke was at work on the Duino Elegies. 'They are,' he wrote later, 'perhaps most mysterious even to me, in the manner in which they arrived and imposed themselves on me - the most puzzling dictation I have ever received and taken down.' Sergei Parajanov's highly symbolic 1964 film, alternatively titled Wild Horses of Fire, portrays the mythology and struggles of the Ukrainian Hutsuls through the love story of Ivan and Marichka. Hallucinatory and penetrating, the film is utterly delightful; it slows the blood.