The foreign envoys saw how miserly
they were with him and all his actions, for
while spurring him to great authority,
they hedged the golden dogeship round with more
and more restraints and watchdogs, out of fear
(as one keeps lions), so they might not be
attacked by the same power that they were
maintaining warily in him. But he,
protected by his half-veiled wits, was not
aware of what they did, and did not pause
in growing greater. What the Council thought
to overcome inside of him, instead
he overcame himself. In his gray head
it was subdued. His face showed how it was.
Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Susan McLean
Fremde Gesandte sahen, wie sie geizten
mit ihm und allem was er tat;
während sie ihn zu seiner Größe reizten,
umstellten sie das goldene Dogat
mit Spähern und Beschränkern immer mehr,
bange, daß nicht die Macht sie überfällt,
die sie in ihm (so wie man Löwen hält)
vorsichtig nährten. Aber er,
im Schutze seiner halbverhängten Sinne,
ward dessen nicht gewahr und hielt nicht inne,
größer zu werden. Was die Signorie
in seinem Innern zu bezwingen glaubte,
bezwang er selbst. In seinem greisen Haupte
war es besiegt. Sein Antlitz zeigte wie.
Rainer Maria Rilke
N.B: We don't know which doge portrait inspired Rilke's poem, but the translator believes the one above is a good candidate.
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was one of the leading modernist poets in German. He was born in Prague, but traveled all over Europe. He served for a while as Rodin's secretary and was deeply interested in the visual arts.
Susan McLean is a retired professor of English from Southwest Minnesota State University. She has published two books of her own poetry and a book of translations of Martial's Latin epigrams. She also translates poetry from French and German.
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