William Ruleman


Each of the four poems below from well-known German writers presents a portrait of a blind man. William Ruleman has translated the poems into English, making them available to Wordgathering readers. The individual poems are first presented in English and then in the original German.

The Blind Man

(by Rainer Maria Rilke; translated by William Ruleman)

Listen to the audio version.


See? He goes and interrupts the town
(Which has no notion of his gloomy place)
The way a long dark crack will trickle down
A shiny cup. And, on his open face,

Reflections of all things are etched as on
A leaf, though not one trace of them he saves.
Of all his senses, stirred is touch alone,
As if it caught the world in little waves,

Its silence something that he must withstand.
He seems to wait for whom to choose; then, led
To his surrender, raises high one hand—
Almost with festive air—as if being wed.


Der Blinde
(Rainer Maria Rilke)


Sieh, er geht und unterbricht die Stadt,
die nicht ist auf seiner dunkeln Stelle,
wie ein dunkler Sprung durch eine helle
Tasse geht. Und wie auf einem Blatt

ist auf ihm der Widerschein der Dinge
aufgemalt; er nimmt ihn nicht hinein.
Nur sein Fühlen rührt sich, so als finge
es die Welt in kleinen Wellen ein

eine Stille, einen Widerstand –,
und dann scheint er wartend wen zu wählen:
hingegeben hebt er seine Hand,
festlich fast, wie um sich zu vermählen.

* * *

Blind Man Bathing

(by Paul Boldt; translated by William Ruleman)

Listen to the audio version.

Somewhere Berlin fades from the scene.
And then the sun takes up his hands.
The lime trees all around stay green.
He sniffs: the wind bears burning brands.

His thin and pale pink lips now feel
A river's chilly ebony.
Yes, rivers he tastes, as his vowels congeal—
These, and a kiss's nervous sea.

A maiden, nude, has kissed him now
And drawn him into the bright blue waves.
He twitches, shrieks; light floods his brow:
The waves! The waves! O the red, red waves!


Das Bad des Blinden
(Paul Boldt)

Irgendwo vergeht Berlin.
Da nimmt die Sonne seine Hände.
Die Linden bleiben grünum ihn –
Er riecht: im Winde duften Brände.

Blaßrosa, seine Lippen fühlen
Das kühle Schwarz des Flusses, Flusses,
Er schmeckt, wie die Vokale kühlen,
Und den nervösen See des Kusses.

Ein Mädchen, nackt, hat ihn geküß
Und zieht ihn in die blauen Wellen.
Er zuckt und schreit, vom Licht durchsüßt:
Die Wellen! oh – die roten Wellen!

* * *

The Blind Man

Listen to the audio version.

(by Alfons Petzold; translated by William Ruleman)

A rather strange sight now seeps into view
And glides its way down to the heart's dark ground:
A blind man on the crowded avenue—
As sure as if led by a string—out walking round.

And like two burned-out traffic lights, his eyes
Hang in his face and never sink or rise.
Alone, his fretful fingers' constant play
Upon his stick now works to show his way.

The grown-ups, pity-filled, step back from him;
The children's frothy moods begin to gel;
The houses' bright facades appear to dim;
All surrender to the blind man's spell.


Der Blinde
(Alfons Petzold)

Seltsames Bild, einsickernd in die Schau,
Von der es in das Herz hinuntergleitet:
Ein Mensch, der sicher wie an einem Tau
Blind durch die volkbeschwerten Gassen schreitet.

Wie eine ausgebrannte Ampel hängt
Der Blick in dem Gesicht, nicht einmal senkt
Und hebt er ihn, und nur der Hände Spiel
An seinem Stabe geben ihn das Ziel.

Die Leute weichen mitleidsvoll ihm aus,
Und Kinder fühlen ihren Frohsinn schwinden;
Ein Schatten fällt ganz schwer von Haus zu Haus–
Die lange Straße steht im Bann des Blinden.

* * *

The Blind Man

Listen to the audio version.

(by Alfons Petzold; translated by William Ruleman)

Before his birth, life's stern and steel-like hand
Had stolen every bit of light from him.
With vacant eyes, he looks out on the land,
To which a woman's body offered him.

And all about him, walls of darkness stand
That will not fall until the day he dies.
But he strides past the void in life's sure hand,
As if sent down by God from Heaven's skies.

And he has a soul in both his hands.
He feels life's great eternal poem resound
All round him, right up to his very end.

And, filled with wisdom, every thing demands:
"Dismiss those walls, those dark veils all around.
The greatest light resides in you, my friend."


Der Blinde
(Alfons Petzold)

Ihm hat des Lebens stahlgeschiente Hand
Im Vorbeginn schon alles Licht entwendet.
Mit toten Augen grüßte er das Land,
Für das der Leib des Weibes ihn gespendet.

Um ihn erhebt sich eine hohe Wand,
Die erst am Tage seines Todes endet.
Doch sicher geht er an des Lebens Hand
Vorbei am Abgrund, wie von Gott gesendet.

Und Seele ist in jeder seiner Hände.
Er fühlt um sich das ewige Gedicht
Des großenLebens bis zu seinem Ende.

Und jedes Ding voll Weisheit zu ihm spricht:
"Was sind dir Nebelschleier, dunkle Wände,
Du birgst in dir das allergrößte Licht!"


Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is one of the most famous German-language poets of the twentieth century.

Paul Boldt (1885-1921) one of the German Expressionist poets, was given to frolicsome and sometimes bawdy depictions of life, love, and sex in Berlin during the years preceding the First World War. Though drafted into the army, he was discharged in 1916, being declared psychologically unfit to serve. He died at the age of 35 from complications resulting from hernia surgery.

Alfons Petzold (1882-1923) was an Austrian writer who grew up in Vienna, endured poverty in his childhood and youth, and went on to achieve fame for his prose and verse during his short lifetime. Afflicted with tuberculosis, he was especially sensitive to those with disabilities.

William Ruleman is Professor of English at Tennessee Wesleyan University. His most recent books include the poetry collection From Rage to Hope (White Violet Books, 2016), as well as his translations of Hermann Hesse's verse up to 1902, entitled Early Poems (Cedar Springs Books, 2017) and of Stefan Zweig's unfinished novel Clarissa (Ariadne Press, also 2017).