on January 17, 2005
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.
on April 18, 1999
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.
on January 28, 2001
Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry sings and dances...in 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.
on August 20, 2013
I agree with K. Marsh's assessment. This alleged translation is a narcissistic, disrespectful, multi-ideological perversion of Rilke's poetry. Barrows & Macy employ Buddhism, feminism, and Deep Ecology (the adjective indicates ecology has been reframed) to reinterpret Rilke through their lenses. And they do so with pride in their Commentary section. I'll cite examples, but let me cut to the chase: You read this book knowing that at will they have deliberately rewritten or omitted lines, changed the order of lines, exchanged lines between poems, and merged poems to create a better single poem. And they rewrite the meaning of lines not as translation but to correct Rilke's thinking and his not quite ready for prime time ideas and render them into better Barrows & Macy concepts, or at least clarify for Rilke what he meant to or should have said. Imagine the audacity of this line, p. 243, "We omitted the last seven lines, which lost the thread of the preceding image and repeated the thought that is in I,4. After all, Rilke was writing these very quickly!" And, yes, he was. The first cycle of the Sonnets came quickly, in a week, as if he were taking dictation. Should we not preserve the precise, intact delivery from what he called his angel of inspiration??? So, they missed the whole point of the Sonnets, rendering their translation stillborn. On P. 251, we get "No, this not a mis-numbering. We have altered Rilke's ordering of the poems so as not to interrupt the sequence that immediately precedes and which seem all of a piece." Seems? Can we not respect Rilke's ordering? Might we allow his sequence to reveal itself, to break through your conceptual walls? And this travesty, p. 242, "Rilke wrote of the circles that they 'sich uber die Dinge aiehn,' literally 'draw themselves over the things.' Clearly what he intended was the things of this world (see the introduction)." They missed this about Rilke too: When asked to explain what he meant in a particular poem, he responded with, "Everything you need to explain the poem is in the poem." A critical humility is needed in translation, especially with Rilke's journeys into the mystery of existence. Barrows & Macy have that mystery figured out by their ideologies, and thus can correct Rilke's many forays into the multidimensionality of the great darkness. They get it right, as on: P. 248: "Taking our cue from line 7, we omitted the last two thirds of the poem." P. 249, "We have omitted two lines that didn't fit in the cup." Let me translate that one..."that didn't fit our cup of tea." On page 254, "We have combined most of 4 with the last lines of 5. The two themes of this book..." They made a new poem (goodbye nuance) by changing and mixing lines acceptable to them. We want what Rilke wrote. Let's get to the feminist ideology through gender modification (not legitimate and sacred feminism): In their first edition, they wrote, as I remember (I discarded that edition) words to the effect that they changed all of the offensive masculine pronouns--and thus history is revised by them. (Visionary that he was, I don't know if Rilke envisioned a pronoun war in the latter part of the 20th century.) And they try to soft peddle gender now by calling it, in an Orwellian term, deconstructing gender. The first volume also said that they spared the reader all of Rilke's images of pregnant men. How could you be a translator of poetry and not see a metaphor in front of you? That metaphor was one of the key ones in his poetry--that all life is gestation. All life is a becoming. And it's just elementary Joseph Campbell that metaphors point to something beyond concepts, that which is rendered by good Rilke translators as the "unsayable." In Letters to a Young Poet in his 20s, Rilke saw the age of feminine recognition and power coming, and said that relationships could become a kind of sacred friendship not sullied by masculine-feminine misconceptions. He knew that masculine and feminine were energies of beings not to be confused with physical sex organs. Anne Morrow Lindbergh in her Gift from the Sea saw Rilke's views on relationship as groundbreaking on masculine and feminine.Translators must have latitude to find accurate words moving from German to English to convey the essence of a poem, but when Barrows & Macy quote the literal translation and then say Rilke missed the mark and we know what it should be, it is outrageous. Again, it has to fit ideology, not the whispers of the angel in Rilke's ear. But they don't like metaphor anyway: P. 254, "We omitted the middle section of the poem, which employs a different metaphor." They're strict! Here's my problem with the Barrows & Macy translation: What the Commentary reveals that has been corrupted in the poems not only leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, but also does not allow me to read other poems without a haunting sensation that other lines and poems have been tampered with. How much sabotaging of Rilke's Book of Hours is not acknowledged? It is impossible to hold this book in my hands.
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.
on July 21, 1999
Rilke is my favorite poet, but this translation does not do justice to him. I think it is very unfair for modern translators to assume that a contemporary reader would find meter and rhyme "too singsong to convey accurately the seriousness of Rilke's meaning" (quote from the translators' "Notes on the Translation"). Rilke's subject matter and ideas are captivating on their merit alone, but one cannot separate meaning from style in poetry. I believe that to change Rilke's style in a translation is to depart completely from what he felt about his own work, and to drastically weaken what gives his poems their power. Therefore, I prefer the work of stricter translators of Rilke's poetry, such as C. F. MacIntyre.
on October 17, 2009
I read poetry in different voices in my head. I hear the best poetry in the Irish brogue of my Grandmother. I hear the worst in my native New Jersey accent. This translation of my beloved Rilke had "Trenton" written all over it. I'll be returning it and looking for another volume translated by Edward Snow.
on March 27, 2006
Rilke wrote exceptional poetry. This book offers prayers he felt compelled to write after visiting Russia and encountering a simpler form of Christianity. It is engaging and powerful to wrestle with God and the human condition as they intersect. Rilke holds himself open and offers the reader language, terror and beauty in the face of an exceedingly complex yet personal God.
Rilke himself deserves five out of five stars. However,as has been noted in other reviews, this book bears the scars of interpretation from its translators. The muddled stories of conversion to Buddhism tip their hats to their interpretive goals. Consider the following end note:
"I,55 We have omitted two lines that didn't fit in the cup. It wasn't just the first murder that fragmented God's ancient names (see I,9), but also our presumptuous attempts to describe God. From the Tao Te Ching: 'The Way that can be named is not the Way.'"
I had bought the book to read Rilke, not some deconstructed version of him. So, although the writing is a fantastic set of poetry, I would caution the reader to move on to another translation that is more about Rilke as Rilke wrote. I wish I had examined my copy more closely before I purchased it.
on November 14, 2009
This "translation" is nothing of the sort. I am a life-long Rilke admirer and a German and English speaker, and without a doubt this is one of the most tendentious translations I have ever seen published of a major poet's work. How did they get away with this?! The diction of the poems alone makes clear that you are not really reading Rilke at all, but rather some half-baked politically correct "Hallmarked" shadow collaboration. Shame on the authors for making such a book and the publishers for having the chutzpah to publish it.
The Amazon write-up from the Library Journal says it all: "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..."
Do yourselves a favor... order the Deutsch (last name of the author), Kidder, or Ranson translations. They are, in every case, much, much better.
on December 21, 2005
I adore, truly adore the writings - and the heart - of
Rainer Maria Rikle - and as I read each author's preface
to this award winning translation, I felt as if I was
finding two kindred spirits who love Rilke as much
as I do.
Listen to this from the opening notes:
"Most of all we acknowledge the young man who, standing
at the brink of this fearsome century, opened the treasure
house of his huge heart."
I am not a German scholar - all I know in German is
how to say "I love you" - so I can not read Rilke in
the original German. I have read other reviews which
find fault with this translation. I found myself
appreciating the thoroughness of their choices... and
the care they put into word selection and the time
they studied other translations with the intent to
honor the original German.
I have spent the last several days revelling in this
volume and was thrilled to discover this pair of
translators have another Rilke volume on the way.
The book includes a brief history of the poems themselves
and the life of Rilke (vis a vis the collection of poems.)
The included commentary explains their choices.
I would recommend this book for Rilke and non-Rilke
fans a like. The words are timeless, lovely and
imblued with love.