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Spanish Dancer -- Rainer Maria Rilke

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #861) Spanish Dancer
 As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
 flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
 with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
 her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

 And all at once it is completely fire.

 One upward glance and she ignites her hair
 and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
 into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
 from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
 naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

 And then: as if the fire were too tight
 around her body, she takes and flings it out
 haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
 and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
 still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die -
 Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
 exultant smile, she looks up finally
 and stamps it out with powerful small feet.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Steven Mitchell.

I can only repeat about this poem what Thomas has already said about "The
Panther" (Minstrels poem #136) that it captures what is poetry in motion in
poetry itself. The visual impact is stunning, and the metaphor so incredibly
real that every time I've seen the flamenco being performed (regrettably
only on TV) since I read this poem I've been instantly reminded of it.


P.S. For those fluent in German I'm including the original poem as well -
frankly, it's worth reading even if you (like me ) don't understand that
much German if only to hear the rhythm of the original that the translation
more or less loses:

 Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzundholz, weiss,
 eh es zur Flamme komt, nach allen Seiten
 zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
 naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiss
 ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

 Und plotzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

 Mit einem Blick entzundet sie ihr Haar
 und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
 ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
 aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
 die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

 Und dann: als wurde ihr das Feuer knapp,
 nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
 sehr herrisch, mit hochmutiger Gebarde
 und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
 und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -
 Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem sussen
 grussenden Lacheln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
 und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Fussen.

        -- Rainer Maria Rilke

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