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According to a letter from Rilke to Magda von Hattingberg from the 16th-20th February 1914, Rudolf Kassner (his Chinese transliterations is 鲁道夫·卡斯纳 according to this Douban page) has coined a saying to describe Rilke which reads as "Der Weg von der Innigkeit zur Größe geht durch das Opfer.".

The German letter containing the saying is, e.g., printed in a collection of some letters by Rilke I possess with the title "Mitten im Lesen schreib ich Dir" published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 1998. If you need further language context for this question, please refer to the photographs of the relevant paragraphs I attach where the meaning of this saying is amply explained and interpreted.

Now, I would like to translate this saying to Chinese on my own (with your help) as I suspect that there is no official published translation of it.

A few preliminary considerations about a possible translation which you should take with a grain of salt as I am not an expert in the Chinese language:

  • The word "Innigkeit" is translated by DeepL into 亲密关系 which means something like intimacy in English and is completely different from "Innigkeit". I don't know the right translation of this word but the Chinese words which come close to it might be 纯天然 or 纯真. But even these words mean something different if you translate them back to German. In English, we might say "innateness" for "Innigkeit".

  • The word "Weg", I would translate as 道 to make a connection to the deep meaning of this word in Chinese language, philosophy and religion.

  • The word "Größe" could be translated with 伟大 but this is an adjective and cannot be used as a noun. So, we might say 成为伟大的人 instead but that might sound clumsy.

Could you please help me with the translation?

First page Second page

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  • Would you please translate it into English first ? I do not understand the relationship between 亲密关系 and 成为伟大的人. I used Google translate into English, it says intimacy and greatness. Completely unrelated words.
    – Nobody
    Oct 14, 2023 at 9:41
  • In English, it might be: The path from innateness to greatness leads through sacrifice. Innateness here means to be deeply submerged into a subject, to be emotionally engaged. At least, I interpret it like this. @Nobody Oct 14, 2023 at 10:02
  • It sounds like sacrifice would transform innateness into greatness. It does not make too much sense for me in English, not to mention translation into Chinese.
    – Nobody
    Oct 14, 2023 at 13:26
  • Yes, you can rephrase it like this. If you read what Rilke philosophies about his specific meaning of sacrifice on the first page, it makes quite much sense to me in German. And I like this sentence a lot. If you have an idea how to translate it, feel free to share. @Nobody Oct 14, 2023 at 13:30
  • Even if it doesn't make quite sense to you, maybe you could try a literal translation. It would be of great help 😃@Nobody Oct 14, 2023 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

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"伟大的人" can be shortened to "伟人" and this is common usage.

Weg can be either 路 or 道. 道 has a more classic feeling as it is used in idioms like 孔孟之道.

So what is Innigkeit and Opfer?

der grenzenlose, nirgends mehr einschraenkbare Entschluss eines Menschen zu seiner reinsten inneren Moeglichkeit

An infinite determination to pursue the "purest inner possibilities". Devoting oneself to pursue one thing often means he/she must give up other things. This would explain Opfer well. But what is Innigkeit? Duden says:

das Innigsein, tiefe Empfindung; Herzlichkeit. (Duden Deutsches Universalwoeterbuch 8. Auflage p. 925)

Here we may take the second meaning: A deep sensation (tiefe Empfindung) about the "inner possibility" one is pursuing. Hence the complete English meaning is probably: To become a great man, one must begin from a deep sensation about a pursuit, and devote great sacrifice to that pursuit.

Let me make an attempt. It's probably not good but let's 抛砖引玉.

通往伟人的道路,始于热情,成于牺牲

(I choose 成于 because it sort of means "to complete the path you must 牺牲". I currently don't have a better way to express "you have to make sacrifices all along the path" without sounding structurally awkward. But maybe I'm twisting the sentence too much to make it sound structurally good in Chinese.)


Digression: The idea that one becomes great through sacrifice is also explored in Chinese literature. In 1908 王国维 wrote a book 人间词话 in which he said becoming a great scholar always goes through "three stages" (三境界). Each stage is represented by a sentence from a 词 (Ci, a form of Chinese poem)

  1. 昨夜西风凋碧树,独上高楼,望尽天涯路 (Last night the west wind blew off all the leaves from trees; I climbed up a high tower, and all the paths to the faraway world are laid in front of me)

This refers the the mixed feelings that a scholar has when he/she first developes a passion for knowledge. One the one hand he/she sees clearly all the paths ahead; on the other hand it will be a cold and isolated journey, as indicated by "west wind" and that "leaves have fallen."

  1. 衣带渐宽终不悔,为伊消得人憔悴 (I am becoming scrawny and haggard to pursue it, but I am not regretting)

"Scrawny" and "haggard" obviously hints at the great sacrifices of the scholar.

  1. 众里寻他千百度,蓦然回首,那人却在,灯火阑珊处 (I was looking for him for a long time, and I suddenly turned back, and there he was at the edge of the streetlights)

This refers to the "Aha" moments where you suddenly resolve a difficulty, after a long time of fruitless persuit.

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  • I like your translation. Maybe, enthousiasm is the best translation for Innigkeit, although it's not quite the same. Thank you also for the reference to Chinese literature.👍 Oct 14, 2023 at 18:13
  • You are right: 热情 means a bit more than enthusiasm. It fits quite well Oct 14, 2023 at 18:15

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