A poem by Rainer Maria Rilke translated by my father, Donald Heiney/MacDonald Harris In 1967, Dad’s colleague Hazard Adams was working on an anthology of literature in translation. He was after a translation from the German of Rilke’s “Der Panther” but couldn’t find a decent English version. My dad said “Let me take a look”, and took the poem home for the weekend. The next Monday he produced this, which is the one Adams used.
Jardin des Plantes, Paris
The bars go by, and watching them his sight
grows tired and fails to grasp what eyes are for.
There are a thousand bars, it seems to him;
behind the thousand bars there’s nothing more.
The supple gait of swift and powerful steps
pacing out its circle on the ground
is like a dance of strength around a center
in which a great bewildered mind is bound.
Yet now and then the curtain of the pupil
silently parts: a picture goes inside,
slips through the tightened limbs, and in the heart
ceases to be, like something that has died.