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Chris Edwards

So Not Orpheus

Rilke Renditions 1–11


A stink arose — Boom! — or maybe an O, sang Orpheus, as he
yearned toward his Big Mistake. What horror! What a Blockage of the
earways! Oh, and as the verse-writing gang got steadily closer —
fanged, winking, full of wanderlust, a vortex

turning on the same old Still Point — we really tore up
that dungeon, he continued, like a clarion call from the lost world
of Lager and Goodnight. I mean they’d studied Aust Lit and might
still be trying its Ne’ers and Nots in an Angst of leased warrens

surrounded by Holdens, Borrowed Schlock, Garrotting —
you can see it in their kindly arts prizes. But what an About Turn
they faced — the long climb from Hades, and all those wars

against the Emphatic Ones, the Underschleppers, the drunken
Verlaine gang, the intermittent Kazoo gang — foppish imposters
the lot, dross, old shoes fit for anyone who hoards them!


Unfasten my chain, Madam, I’m going to heave
us damsels into a little Gluck ditty. Now, lately it seems quite clear
from your glance that this Schloss you say you’re taking me to
is ... Oh, Bête Noire, you mean

we’re being shipped to MIR? How smug. It’s always an eerie
shaft I hear you could die booming in, so let’s take notes
on the ditch it floats in — jet-black, studded with afflatus —
there and here, a few self-startlers, little wonderers of the world,

the usual stuff — the sin-engendering god and his dozen
volunteers. They dance all night in a big hut girt by the earnest
tinkle of a Steinway. Say, do you sissies understand

what a Toad is? Well, with links like these you’d have Motive.
As for that Big Stink we approach — again? — it’s Lies they tell me
to fix myself fast to ... We’re here, Madam. My chain ...


Good god, give me those magazines. At least they’ll whine about
the same old Men I’m always forgetting. Do you smell something? Lovey?
The sign says, I think, No Spitting. Look at these crossword puzzles —
see how they insinuate furry temples to Apollo for us? Go

sing about that! And oh (while still in learning mode) be buggered
all night by knockabout lads called Eric in the back of the gang’s
Datsun! For ten quid you can buy leeches, possibly lychees,
from the Abyss! I’ve often wondered about

the answer it gives in sign language — sternly, whenever it’s asked
what day it is, or night. As youngsters we’d dash lips against it whenever
we felt unwanted and dear, that Mound we made was unstoppable. Lovey,

for god’s sake don’t start singing here. Just bury it under the wandering
signage with the androids on it by Hannah Höch. You’ve got to learn
to patrol it, and please, do something about that Wind.


So, it’s like that, is it? I’d been trotting awhile with the Atum,
whose words are not normally meant for me, and had at last become
privy to certain errors concerning my Wang — quite a tall one,
if he’d hinted correctly. So I say ... uh ...

Hello dear defanged wonder and broken shell
of the bogeyman’s shadow. Pile your zeal upon my pillow
if you wish. Puffy with expectation, I glance eagerly,
but lofty it ain’t.

Fuck it. Each night the same leaden snoring sucks me off
to Zürich and dreams of Erda the Witch. She sang burger and
Schweppes commercials and burgled and wept her way across Europe,

much like me and myself, I suppose. Am I doomed to plummet through her
as she drags on constant cigarettes, to get more quickly to the
Afterlife she says ... where there’s more room ... ?


Eric clunks by, in a Dachshund this time. Lachrymose
and jabbering over the lost works of Gertrude Einstein,
Orpheus squats in his den. Since morphing into damned
bones again, he thinks the swollen moonlight might

have other names. Like Norman? What a futile Male
that Orpheus is. He sings till Eric comes and then
grows homely and otiose, twisted. Yet whenever the rosy
veil shafts him, omens participate — Ta very much — and

overstatement — Why, O swindler? — dabs at his eyes with its
gift. Ugh. When I myself, on the other hand, bang about swanlike
in much the same Word-From-On-High trifles, you can

bet there’s nix to give the big bag lady but Delia Glitter,
who’s always littering the heights above Hades, her wraith
a ghastly understatement, her diadem firmly adrift.


Is he a hairsplitter? No, it’s bedtime. Reach for your
earmuffs, signwritten Nature! What a humdinger,
that big Z he makes. Wandering through this
little death, its Wake is him, its Wonder.

Get thee to a better place, you. So late that even the damned
tissue box has no milk in it, a token zilch bewitches
this world — a train of thought now shunt-eyed
under its minions, his august eyelids.

Eerily it shimmies — gosh! — and zooms to the end
as Always: it’s the sober versus the educated. Taking another
route towards the war on clarity, the Blitzkrieg

Night clangs down on is likewise guilty around the edges of
too much verisimilitude — always zipping round the room
for more finger food, sponge cake and Krug.


A Rumour! That’s it! A Rumour Disguised as a Bestseller
by a wise old ersatz from Einstein Scrapbooks! Sign here,
kid. Acculturated Stein-mentioner, gangly one within, your
utterance, is it unending? Hmm, what a wiener.

No? Verily you make me sag, dear stimulant, you stab me in the
glottal stop. My spiel is all the more urgent for this, for it is always
wired like a Wall propping up that improbable Trauma I told you
about. In a corner of the thrift shop, suddenly, a gift —

sadly, nicked from a hock shop. Let’s say Korny & Modern
strafe it. Rum lingo, but odder things have happened. Any old
gods still lurking in the shadows should be news by now

bid verboten and adieu. Your best alternative lingers in this
here remedy for turning: Do not default. The remainder’s a black
hole hollering Hey, Frankenstein, halt!


Numerological ruminations aside, dear Nymph,
I’m deaf again and must go to town to Quell a rising.
Watch the unwashed nether-slag would you, dashed
against the cliffs? And Feel like a damsel in a dell.

Damn it, how tragically dice have altered this Atlas —
Sick for sure, yet still I come. Shovelling fruit substitutes
into the gobsmacked ears of youngsters, I say Beware
the grunters of German words. Wistfully thinking I might

get a mutt at the Jumble sale, I sneak into grandstand
position. Now the Klanging’s really aloud, and maidenly
wringing hands it to me — I’m starting to look slim.

Overhead, a scraggly sky — polished, I think, by
hash smokers. Dorks too build wisps in it, but no sign
yet of Himself, just some malingerer, already high.


Now when Delia, shocking hobnobber,
was out on a hunch between slatterns
grown deaf to her endless Lobbying,
she’d create a state dinner.

Now when Mr Totempole and his Mum
Ah-ha! wandered the irradiated world,
it was night-time already and the listening Tom
ate whatever it was in.

Now when people from magazines begin dying of
spotted lung, that’ll Teach ‘em. To understand verse better
wise up, doc, or Biddy’ll

burst into Where the Hell’s My Doppelgänger,
or wander round Wonderland stinging the warden,
acting the bigwig, being mild.


No, Eric, you can’t do it here. Go fondle the Verlaine
gang, grub. This antique succubus fantasy of yours is a
frolic too How’s-Yer-Father for us Romantickish types.
Look, the tag team exploring the Lido by churchlight

are placing another order for offal. Weirdos, huh?
I sure do feel like hurting them a little. Hitting on ‘em
too — in my voile tracktop, I’m still a big sausagey sort
of denmother trapped in a seersucker halter. All the same,

these dead people, all of them, are real big Zeroes to me,
grub. I mean, where’d they go? If they got off at the Moon
and wafted, maybe. And what are those weirdos

wiring to them? Freud knows wires, where’s he?
Besides, Biddy’s exchanged our Sunday at the zoo
for man-licking, what an Angel.


So it’s a Camel? I thought the Sign said “Writer”. Damned
if it isn’t the self-same prang. That Ermine you’re wearing,
is it Stolen? Once or twice the room trembled
and tragedy came to a halt.

It’s not so, decreed the jangly gang-band leader.
Do you think perhaps Nature is a Sign? Whacked or unwhacked?
Duck, there’s a duck approaching! Very understanding, no way.
Then, once upon a time, a quack rhyme.

Ah, but the sin thing? The odour my manly bedding omits
is not What you think. What am I, some sort of zookeeper?
Nomenclature! It’s a short version of the used Tissue of Words.

Och, he shrugged, the verbiage — it’s just some sternish Right Stuff.
The Duck’s a fraud, a veiled Nothing disguised as a None, a Figure turned
globular, engorged — just some total, that’s all, mid-plight.

Also see in this issue: Art Beck: And Yet Another Archaic Torso — Why?

Chris Edwards. Photo by James Stuart.

Chris Edwards. Photo by James Stuart.

Author’s Note

These sonnets are very loosely based on Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonette an Orpheus I, 1–11. They might at a stretch be called mistranslations, though I haven’t approached Rilke with homophony in mind, the way the Zukofskys approached Catullus, or I did Mallarmé in parts of A Fluke. In spite of my one year of German at high school, I’m never quite sure what Rilke’s words sound like, let alone what more than a few of them mean — all I have to go on are the letters, which seem weirdly and wonderfully addressed to me: single letters, especially those Rilke has capitalised, like “O” or “W” in the first stanza of the first sonnet, but also consonant clusters like “st” and “b...m,” along with names like “Orpheus” and words like “Angst.” Some, frankly, are suggestive. Others are enough to transmogrify a person — into Frankenstein’s monster? You be the judge. If I’ve “responded” to the German’s secret experiments, all very well. But the results in this case ― So Not Orpheus, so not Rilke ― are also, I feel compelled to imagine, “renditions” in all senses of the word, including the most extraordinary.

Chris Edwards
December 2008

Afterword: A door

Attacked by the Muses from time to time as he wandered the rocky coast road, Rainer, now armless, now leggy and blond, a fat of buttered music-hair impounded in his pocket, turned in his well-footed, firm-booted stance. It reflected the problem of leaden skies: to stop for a pee or not, what a prelude to thunder and uproar! Skipping a few lines, he wondered why the traveller was always “before” him, since surely there must be ways to pour forth without getting from the ABC to Delphi. Poor, let’s say, as a church louse in the infested presence of Apollo was the refrain the clodhopping sound came up with ― as finally a brainstorm hit the main drain, then the brick wall of his dazed outcry, then lo and behold, a door!

Chris Edwards. Photo by James Stuart.

Chris Edwards
Photo by James Stuart

Chris Edwards is the Sydney-based author of two chapbooks of poetry, utensils in a landscape and Nicked (both from Vagabond Press), and of A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de dés,” with parallel French pretext, published in print by Monogene in 2005 and online in Jacket 29. You can browse a selection of his poems at the Poetry International website.

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