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Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God Hardcover – March 19, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The German poet Rilke wrote his Book of Hours (Das Stundenbuch) between 1899, when he was 23 years old, and 1903. The poems, sacred and intimate and not intended for the public, "came to him" in a highly inspirational way?he described it as "inner dictation"?following a visit to a monastery in Russia, where he was deeply moved by the practice of praying several times daily following a "book of hours." Barrows and Macy, accomplished poets who were born into the Judeo-Christian tradition but who have also embraced Buddhism, have carefully translated 80 of the 135 poems in the original Stundenbuch, culling some poems they felt to be weaker or less relevant to a late 20th-century reader and artfully reducing other poems to their essentials. Thus, this treasurable collection is a collaboration among three poets (or perhaps four, if one counts Rilke's insistence on the contribution of the divine!). Here is just one of many stunning moments in the extensively annotated and thoroughly prefaced collection: "All becoming has needed me./ My looking ripens things/ and they come toward me, to meet and be met." And, striking a contemporary chord: "I am living just as the century ends./ A great leaf, that God and you and I/ have covered with writing/ turns now, overhead, in strange hands." Highly recommended.?Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 166 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 2nd prt. edition (March 19, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573220337
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573220330
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

212 of 221 people found the following review helpful By K. March on January 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
A Shameful Translation

This volume is quite possibly the sloppiest, most disrespectful, and least reliable "translation" of Rilke I have ever seen. The term "translation" can only be used in the most casual sense for in their notes on translation Barrows and Macy describe a kind of vague new-age method of translation consisting of a kind of collaboration between them and the original, full of interpretation and subjectivity (pg. 35). At one point they even confess to doing away entirely with the accurate translation of one of the poems in favour of a "metaphorical" translation (pg. 40). They admit to omitting lines, entire sections of poems, and even collapsing two consecutive poems into one (pg. 41). Any legitimate and reputable translator would be horrified by these hackneyed techniques.

For example, in the very first poem, one which sets the tone for the whole book, Barrows and Macy, in their foot notes, admit to cutting out the entire last stanza, fully one-third of the first poem because, "it is not as strong as the first two stanzas, especially for the opening poem of The Book of Hours." Rilke, his editor, and his publisher obviously thought it was strong enough. The fact of the matter is that Rilke's work is what it is and it is not the translator's place, as any reputable translator knows full well, to make those determinations. On page 42 of their notes on translation, commenting further on Rilke's supposedly weak writing, they smugly comment, "Since we could not bring him the chicken soup he needed on those long nights [of writing], we have done him the favour of culling." One wishes they had done him the favour of a reliable and reputable translation instead of rewriting his beautiful and thoughtful original.
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110 of 121 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
As well intentioned as this volume may be, there is simply never an excuse for severely editing a poet's work in order to "fit modern sensibilities." I'm not talking about the process of translating itself, which inevitably alters a text, but rather Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy's admitted practice of omitting many poems in Rilke's Book of Hours, and even entire stanzas of other poems that they simply didn't like. But let them speak for themselves. This is from the book's notes on translation: "Our many omissions were made out of respect for Rilke (!) to convey and preserve WHAT WE CONSIDERED his essential meaning, undistracted by cliches and undiluted by mixed metaphors...what seemed appropriate to Rilke in Europe nearly a hundred years ago sometimes smacks of pious sentimentality to the American reader on the edge of the 21st century." How fortunate for Rilke that he managed to sustain a reputation for greatness all these years without the help of these two revisionist editors to clean up his act! If you like your Rilke strained through the sieve of Berkely political correctness circa 1991 then this is the volume for you. If, however, you believe that much of Rilke's greatness lies in the fact that what he wrote nearly a century ago continues to speak to the universal human condition today, choose another translation. I returned this one.
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75 of 85 people found the following review helpful By J. Rabideau on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry sings and its original. This book is again proof that is well-nigh impossible to translate poetry and to preserve its fundamental nature. What places the finishing touches upon Rilke in his native German is his beautiful sense of linguistic balance, of metric symmetry. This translation was executed, though, with no regard to metre (the translators admit as much). While they tend to successfully encapsulate Rilke's meaning, it is rather a free-form exercise...often omitting two or three lines at a whim...would perhaps be better to view this as Anita Barrows' personal interpretation of Rilke's poetry. Poetry is extremely challenging to translate (Rilke notoriously so); this is a game effort, and an interesting approach...but it isn't really Rilke at the end of it all.

All that said, I refrain from dunning this entirely...the kernel of Rilke's meaning pokes through, but I firmly recommend reading this instead in German, ability provided. As far as suitable English translations of Rilke, the best ones available to my mind are those done by Edward Snow.
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43 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on December 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
I hadn't read Rilke in years. And then, wonderfully, I pulled this hitherto unopened translation off my shelves, and rediscovered what so moved me in his poetry when I was a young man. Rilke has the true poet's gift of seeing more deeply into the fabric of existence than most of us, and the ability to invite us to look a bit more closely. He hints, insinuates, teases, and almost always illuminates.
I particularly love this book because Rilke, in keeping with the tradition of love mysticism, wants to suggest that there's no fundamental difference between the intense yearning for another person and the intense yearning for God. As the poet/narrator tells a young monk struggling with passions of the flesh, "now, like a whispering in dark streets/rumors of God run through your dark blood." Love of God and love of humans are both erotic inasmuch as they involve the entire person, mind, soul, and body. To long for the beloved is necessarily a sensual experience. Moreover, reminiscent of the great medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, Rilke holds that God erotically yearns for us as much as we yearn for God. One of my favorite poems in the book, "Was wirst du tun, Gott, wenn ich sterbe?", hauntingly worries about the devastatinig effect the poet/narrator's death will have upon God the Lover:
What will you do, God, when I die?
I am your pitcher (when I shatter?)
I am your drink (when I go bitter?)
I, your garment; I, your craft.
Without me what reason have you?
...What will you do, God? I am afraid.
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