Featured Poem

Orchard

          I

And why else, borrowed tongue,
why else did I dare speak a word
of you, if not to say orchard –
the country name that haunted me so long?

Fenced-in with detail, or shipwrecked
in the abstract?
Pity the poet whose song
would capture all the promise of that name!

It is the privilege of the lyre
to voice you: orchard.
Name that breathes & listens, name
to lure honeybees, name without peer

whose dazzle hides ancient springs –
full & invisible,
syllable against syllable
you overflow, you redouble everything.

           II

Around which star does all
our ponderous yearning
spin? Where are the heavens
of our promised zeal?

Or do we sway together
simply to please each other?
Let us tread
lightly that we may feel the planet turning
according to this force, according to that force...

Look again at the orchard:
weighed-down – of course, of course –
but in that heaviness
you can taste summer’s happiness.

           III

Never was land more real
than in your branches; never was gold
more weightless than in the lace
your shadows throw on the grass.

This is our inheritance.
All that is heavy, all that must be sated, will reveal
that the path of tenderness
is endless...

A silent fountain dozes at your still
centre: once
she could solve any riddle;
now she leaves them untold.

           IV

The gods we abandoned –
how did they hide their grace? Where did it go?
Gifted children who couldn’t outgrow
their provincial roots...

Behind a veil of sound
beetles & bees
circle the fruits –
heavenly labours!

Those long-forgotten gods, lost in the past,
will never altogether disappear:
they will be here
when we meet our accusers face to face at last.

           V

What memory, what hope
           can you conjure, my orchard?
You, the nibbling sheep;
           I, the good shepherd...

It’s Sunday – my day off,
           though your work is far from over.
I think I could gaze up
           through your branches forever...

To be a shepherd: a fine life!
           And won’t my peacefulness deepen
your apples’ flavour as they ripen,
           now that you know I’ll leave?

           VI

The orchard, like a summer dress
let fall from your shoulders... didn’t you feel
the consolation of sweet
grass under your feet?

No coronation, no victory parade:
it impressed you simply by becoming great.
An hour slipped away, and that was that.
You waited,

a book for company, implicated
in the myriad
shadows that mirrored
a play of symbols – impossible to read.

           VII

Orchard, content to coax each apple
to its potential – how well they know
your age-old instincts, your supple
responses to their come-and-go...

What success, what order you achieve! They grow
insistent in the twisted branches
until, delighted with their strength, they overflow
in the still air...

Your dangers, my dangers –
are they not all one?
O my orchard, O my twin!
The same wind compels us to be gentle, to be severe.


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About the translation:
» Read translator's notes
Poet:
Rainer Maria Rilke
Translator:
Paul Batchelor
Original language:
French
Issue:
2017 Number 2 - A Blossom Shroud

About the author

Rainer Maria Rilke

Original poet

Rainer Maria Rilke

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohe... » Read more
Paul Batchelor

Translator

Paul Batchelor

Paul Batchelor was born in Northumberland in 1977. In 2003 he received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, and...

» Read more

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