Who Doesn’t Love a Carousel, aka Merry-Go-Round?


Recording of a Wurlitzer 165 Band Organ, courtesy http://wurlitzer-rolls.com/.

Click on the arrow above for mood music.

Remember? First a big person stood beside your horse, then the time came when you rode all by yourself, reassured by the familiar smiling faces that kept appearing on the sideline. And finally, it was still fun but not really exciting any more and actually you felt a little bit silly.

When I learned that the Forest Park carousel in Queens (2 rides for $5)  had just been designated a NYC landmark I was reminded of those gentle rides of the past and this poem about the swift passage of childhood and time by Rainier Maria Rilke, the great German poet.  It is one of my favorite poems, maybe my all time favorite. The translation is by James L. Kugel. I don’t read German, but I think the translation must be a good one. Maybe the German professor will weigh in.


Turning for a brief time in the shadow

of its roof is this revolving stand

of painted animals, all from the land

that lingers long before it fades away.


True, some are hitched to wagons; nonethess

their faces make them still seem full of fight.

A fierce-looking red lion drifts along,

and now and then an elephant, all white.


Here comes a deer; it might be from the forest,

save that it has a saddle on its back,

to which a light-blue girl is safely strapped.


A boy in white leans on the lion’s mane—

his little hand is clinging to the rein—

as the lion shows its fearsome teeth and bite.

And now and then an elephant, all white.


And on the horses sit some girls in bright

clothes, who seem somehow a little too grown up

for their horses’ rhythmic prancing; in mid-jump

they gaze off distracted by some distant sight. . .

And now and then an elephant, all white.


So on it goes hurrying to the finish,

turning and circling for no goal or reason.

A red, a green, a gray go rushing by,

the shape of some child’s outline half-begun.

And time and again a smile is turned this way,

a happy one that dazzles, unrestrained

and squandered on this blind and breathless game.

If you want to know more about NYC carousels, go here: http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/carousels

Thanks to Sarah for alerting me to this great site!

5 thoughts on “Who Doesn’t Love a Carousel, aka Merry-Go-Round?

  1. Took my son on lots of rides at the Flushing Park Carousel in Queens and the Central Park and Bryant Park Carousels. They are all beautiful. Carousels are kind of odd. Very scary when you are little. Sam was very scared at first. We had to ride in the wagon part. The animals are sort of frightening with their open eyes, stuck, staring with the poles through their bodies, stuck, going around in circles. I always loved the part in the Mary Poppins movie where she magically makes the horses jump from the carousel and they go bounding off on a fox hunt! I loved the idea that the horses were FREE!

    Your blog sparked my curiosity. I feel like Carousels have always been nostalgic. No matter what era you live in, the Carousel takes you back to some other time. I googled, and found that they have been around since the 1600s! So perhaps in the 1600s they didn’t feel nostalgic. I found a great NYC history here. http://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/carousels

    I love the poem as well. Carousels are circling time.



    1. Thanks for the link! I’m going to put it on the post because not everybody reads the comments. I love the picture of that little child who seems to be a little unsure of whether we should be doing this or not!


  2. Your first paragraph needed to continue full circle. Having kids gave us a great excuse to ride it again. And then, we got to the age where we didn’t care what people thought. We ride it because it’s fun.


  3. Thank you for crediting the translator here! I’ve seen this version repeatedly on the internet, with NO attribution. Most contemporary translators of Rilke don’t even attempt to repeat his rhyme patterns and so miss half the impact. Now hopefully, I can scout out this brave translator’s versions of other Rilke poems.


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