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The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke Paperback – September, 1986
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Though renowned for his major works written in German, Rainer Maria Rilke (18751926) is still to be discovered as the author of a sizable oeuvre of French poems. To this day, the majority of his worldwide readership focuses on the Duino Elegies, which he struggled with for ten years (19121922), and Sonnets to Orpheus, a sequence he wrote in eighteen days (1922). The great difference in the length of time he needed to complete these works arose from the following. Nourished by his numerous travels and his vision of Europe as his cultural homeland, his creative powers collapsed under the conditions imposed by World War 1, and were not restored until 1921/22 when he found a secluded domicile in the Swiss Valais. Around 1960, a new generation of readers rediscovered his New Poems (1907/08) and his novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), both of which he wrote while living in Paris. But two significant parts of his work continued to be relatively unknown: his German poems dating from the last years of his life, and some 400 French poems of which all but 28 were written after 1922. Owing to Poulin's dedicated work of translation, a fivevolume series of Rilke's French poems has appeared since 1979. In the new bilingual edition, this series is reprinted, together with a miscellany of occasional poems published for the first time. Though not as rich in semantic and syntactical finesse as the best of his German poetry, Rilke's French poems are refined and subtle. Some of them mirror his exuberance and his relief that once again he was able to write, while in others there lingers a trace of persistent sadness, as in the verses addressed to a rose: "You are left / with us now, sharing, / desperately, this life, this life / where you don't belong." Poulin's English versions capture the essence of the originals, and they are also graceful renditions of their rhythms. The convenience of finding all of Rilke's French poems in one book adds to the attractiveness of this new collection. -- From Independent Publisher
Text: English, French
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Years later, I still turn to it, and it sits on my bookshelf, in front of me as I write this review.
If you thought you knew roses before - you may find out, after reading Rilke's French poetry - that you haven't known roses at all. One poem in particular that has followed me through the years has the words: "By sheer dint of prayer, I knew bread."
By sheer dint of this book of verse, you may know roses.
Very good introduction that speaks to some of the translation issues. The original French is fortunately on the left side of the page and makes for a nice contrast. I don't read French, but I know enough about Indo-European langauges to roughly sound it out, and there are beautiful rhymes galore. In fact, it appears that nearly all of the French rhymes, whereas hardly any English does. Yet knowing that they rhyme in French adds a little more sparkle to the English.
French was Rilke's second language, and as he was not as proficient as in German, something is sacrificed. I recall in the introduction, which makes sense, that writing poems in French were comparable to Rilke starting over and therefore echo his early German poems.
The Rose Poems stand out, breathtaking on account of their consistent return to the word and image of the rose, as do some other short poems conveying meditations on a certain thing, such as a window. The dedications and fragments at the end, which wonderfully complete the addition, do not add much noteworthy.
I wish that I read French, and would recommend these poems to anyone who does, or is learning. For those not acquanited with Rilke's other works, there are better places to start. For those familiar with his earlier works, this is comparable and the definitive French collection to have.
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