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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at Münchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.



from Sonnets from the Portuguese

by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,  I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!  and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


von Elizabeth Barrett-Browning,
übersetzt von Rainer Maria Rilke

Wie ich dich liebe? Laß mich zählen wie.
Ich liebe dich so tief, so hoch, so weit,
als meine Seele blindlings reicht, wenn sie
ihr Dasein abfühlt und die Ewigkeit.

Ich liebe dich bis zu dem stillsten Stand,
den jeder Tag erreicht im Lampenschein
oder in Sonne. Frei, im Recht, und rein
wie jene, die vom Ruhm sich abgewandt.

Mit aller Leidenschaft der Leidenszeit
und mit der Kindheit Kraft, die fort war, seit
ich meine Heiligen nicht mehr geliebt.

Mit allem Lächeln, aller Tränennot
und allem Atem. Und wenn Gott es giebt,
will ich dich besser lieben nach dem Tod.

Note:  A recitation can be heard here.


  1. very interesting work. Poetry and prose are wonderful forms of the written word. Have you ever read "Verily, a new hope"? it is Star Wars rendered in the style of william shakespeare

  2. I seem to recall reading something of the sort in McSweeny's awhile back. Such genre- and era-bending literary experiments can achieve a wide and varied response in reader-response.

  3. Loved the recitations. Did you notice any differences in nuance as you moved from reciting EBB's poem to reciting Rilke's translation? Does the German bend the meaning or tone in discernible ways?

  4. In weighing the nuances of Rilke's German against Barrett-Browning's English, two thoughts come immediately to mind: John Ciardi began the preface to his take on Dante's Inferno with this metaphor--though the violin can only approximate the piano, it sings a similar song through its own voice; and, somewhere, I remember reading something about Boris Pasternak's translations of Shakespeare, that while they are less technically accurate than most, they're also more beloved and read.

    Rilke keeps Barrett-Browning's greater meaning and tone in seven like sentences that occur in the same seven lines, yet, through a a break of the typically Petrarchan design and rhyme scheme (ABBA/CDDC/EFE/FEF vs. ABAB/CDDC/EEF/GFG) and blunting of repetition via syntactic constructions and lexical choices, he makes the emphatic quality somehow still pressing while more nuanced--and, yet, occasionally this effect is reversed. For example, one particularly startling change is how "a love I seemed to lose/with my lost sants" becomes "seit/meine Heiligen nicht mehr geliebt". The English hedges its bets with the word "seems," indicating an indefinite love that is perhaps lost with the lost saints; the German is "since my saints [were ] no more in love".

    All told, I see Rilke's as an achievement, especially when one considers how little English he knew. The lines read exquisitely aloud and, like Barrett-Browning's, portray a singularly powerful state of love.

  5. P.S. On another note, the German employs those telltale instruments of music, alliteration and assonance, much more outrightly than the original English, which seems more intent upon the echoing effect of parallel structures for its music.