The Brahms Quintet in B minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 115, was the final work performed at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival earlier this month. John Harbison introduced the piece by sharing a story about trying to teach the piece to an ensemble of high school musicians. (When worlds collide! Bright-eyed, uncalloused souls and late Brahms.) To help his students "get it", he read the Rilke poem "Herbsttag [Autumn Day]" to them, and he read it to us that evening, translating from the German on the spot.
Here's the poem in four English translations, with Rilke's original at the end. (John Roll: tell Scott that there's a William Gass translation included here too.) And here's the thing: even if you have only a smattering of German, it's worth reading the original poem aloud—even without a contemporaneous understanding of the German—the better to appreciate the poem's "music". I've taken that term from Jared Carter, who talks about the "musical qualities of the spoken word" in poetry in this interview (scroll to just above the photograph of the blackberries to get to that part, but really, read the whole thing). While nothing can wholly make up for the imperfection of reading in translation, it may be that hearing the sound of the original poem is a step that shouldn't be skipped, especially when reading poetry in translation. Try it with this Basho haiku: natsugusa ya / tsuwamonodomo no / yume no ato. It's about summer grass, but is autumnal in feeling, as you'll see from its fourteen-plus translations at Bemsha Swing and Language Log.
Today's the first day of autumn, but summer's still playing catch-up for now. The tomatoes are still ripening, the tender annuals are still going strong, and the roses are in torrid re-bloom, all while the neighborhood's burning bushes have already turned on their matte crimson blush. Right now, the garden is in maximum overlap, with two seasons of bloom converging for a brief moment before the inevitable. It doesn't feel like fall yet, but it will soon, and then maybe it will feel like this poem from Awake at Dawn. Read it aloud.
Update, September 23, 2004: Language Log contributes an interlinear reading of the first stanza of "Herbsttag", (update, September 24, 2004:) plus a link to an mp3 of a full reading of the poem in the original German. And don't miss Robert the Llama Butcher's poetic thoughts on fall, accompanied by Keats's "To Autumn". "To Autumn" received this textual "reading" by Sven Birkerts and audio readings by Birkerts, Emily Hiestand, Stanley Plumly, and C. K. Williams, as part of the Atlantic Monthly Online's "Soundings" series (subscriber-only links, alas).