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Letters to a Young Poet
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on November 13, 2013
Louth's translation of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet is a mediocre translation, does not match that of M.D. Herter Norton's (Letters to a Young Poet), whose quintessential translation must be the standard for all others of Rilke's work. You cannot see it the following pages in the Look Inside feature, but the following famous passage in Letter 8 is an excellent example. "Mr. Kappus," the young poet, might as well be us, and the passage can be read without the words "dear Mr. Kappus" and stands alone -- at least in the M.D. Herter Norton translation.

M.D. Herter Norton's translation (Letters to a Young Poet), Letter 8, reads: "How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are the beginning of all peoples? The myths about dragons that, at the last moment, turn into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only waiting to see us, once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something helpless that wants help from us. So, you must not be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up before you, larger than any you have ever seen. If a restiveness like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening to you. That life has not forgotten you. That it holds you in its hand. It will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any agitation, any pain, any melancholy, since you do really do not know what these states are working upon you? ..."

Compare this to Charlie Louth's translation of this same passage in Letter 8 (Letters to a Young Poet):

"How can we forget those ancient myths found at the beginnings of all peoples? The myths about the dragons who at the last moment turn into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses, only waiting for the day when they will see us handsome and brave? Perhaps everything terrifying is deep down a helpless thing that needs our help. So, dear Mr. Kappus, you shouldn't be dismayed if a sadness rises up in front of you, greater than any you have ever seen before; or if a disquiet plays over your hands and over all your doings like light and cloud-shadow. You must think that something is happening with you; that life has not forgotten you; that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why should you want to exclude from your life all unsettling, all pain, all depression of spirit, when you don't know what work it is these states are performing within you? ... "

Note that word order in changed in by Louth to give a different meaning, and this is often the case.

Also, compare to Stephen Mitchell's translation of the passage in Letter 8 (Letters to a Young Poet (Modern Library) and (Letters to a Young Poet):

"How could we forget those ancient myths that stand the beginning of all the races, the myths about dragons that are at the last moment transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. So you mustn't be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why to you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression. since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you?...."

Really, "that wants our love"? Our LOVE? No reason for this translator's license, none at all. Mitchell's translation likewise strips the Letters of poetry, and, of note, his introduction to the Letters is somewhat bizarre.

If one goes further back in this letter, to Rilke's discussion of solitude, the demarcation between the beautiful and the mediocre translation is equally clear. I find M.D. Herter Norton's translation by far the most beautiful, poetic and meaningful, although reading other translations can add to the reader's understanding, or else, show the reader which translation speaks to him.

On the other hand, here is an opportunity to compare, free of charge, three translations. I have chosen to confine myself to the translation by M.D. Herter Norton's of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, since I don't want to interrupt the flow of reading as I study these great letters, and feel it is best to choose one. It is a shame the M.D. Herter Norton translation is not currently in print in hardcover. Still, there are used copies to be found and I'd rather buy several paperback copies of Norton's than have a nice looking hardcover of a mediocre translation.
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on April 16, 2014
When I purchased this, I only knew I love the poetry of Rilke and that I had read many positive reviews of this compilation of his letters to a young poet.

I had no idea that this is a true chest of treasures. I purchased the Kindle version to go along with listening to this audiobook (the narration of which is outstanding). I kept placing bookmarks on the audible version and then highlighted the text in Kindle. This is quite a futile endeavor because, as I found, well over half deserves special emphasis.

I will share only my favorite quote, after saying that this book of letters, and particularly this translation into English, is worth a credit in my opinion for its encouragement of creativity and a love of life and for the testimonials from the great artists over the past decades who have been deeply and positively affected by these letters.

"... try, like the first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Don't write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and habitual: they are the hardest, for you need great maturity and strength to produce something of your own in a domain where good and sometimes brilliant examples have been handed down to us in abundance. For this reason, flee general subjects and take refuge in those offered by your own day-to-day life; depict your sadnesses and desires, passing thoughts and faith in some kind of beauty--depict all this with intense, quiet, humble sincerity and make use of whatever you find about you to express yourself, the images from your dreams and the things in your memory. If your everyday life seems to lack material, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place."
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on December 4, 2015
Insightful, deep, and powerful. I have returned to it again and again, and depending upon where I am in my life, there is always something different that resonates with me. Can't recommend it highly enough. If you're even considering the purchase of this book and you've somehow made your way to reviews of it, you should absolutely get it. This is a book that I've probably given out a dozen copies of. If cost is a factor, I believe there is a Kindle version for 99 cents, and although there are a couple of typos in it, it's mostly on the mark. If you really love it, you can look into the Stephen Mitchell translation and see what he did with it. Certain phrasings in the different versions feel 'more perfect' to me. I'd give it a million stars if I could.
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on December 3, 2012
'You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.' ~Rainer Maria Rilke, 'Letters to a Young Poet'

This fascinating and poetic slender little tome is a collection of ten letters written from Rainer Maria Rilke to a young person trying to decide between a career as a writer or one in the army. I love Rilke. His heart is in evidence among the pages and phrase herein and this book was/is so beautiful to me. I need to buy the Letters to a Young Poet Kindle version, for my Kindle Paperwhite. 'Letters to a Young Poet' is a book that one can read, and re-read, over the course of a lifetime. The work may be most inspiring for creatives, particularly writers, yet the wisdom here is universal. A desire to be and do, whatever the life area, can be assessed by the wisdom contained herein. As Rilke queries the recipient of his letters, find out the reason that commands you to do something. Is this something you must do? If so, then "build your life in accordance with this necessity." ~Happy reading~*
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on September 11, 2017
I have been wanting to get hold of this book for a while. It is a beautiful book. But this is a really not the best copy - it looks extremely cheap and badly put together. It was very cheap, so I guess you get what you pay for, but I did not realise it will be such poor quality. On the flip side it was very cheap in price, and it came fast and in great condition. Maybe somewhere in the fine print this was mentioned & I missed it.
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on May 4, 2016
I bought this copy for a book club meet-up, but they recommended another translation. I've read both and like this one so much better. There is more detail into the life of Rilke in the additional chapters in this translation. But I was really intrigued by the subtle differences in two translations from German. I would recommend get another translation from another author to do a comparison, the other copy I have is by Mitchell, I got that at a book store for less than $10, just a 4x7 inch paper back, that had a poor type set font. The size for this book is 8x 51/4 and font is easier to read. You might think that I have received some sort of financial award from writing this much, but I was impressed with the words of these letters, they are so pointe and thought provoking. The range of the discussion goes from, creativity, solitude, to love.
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on May 4, 2015
This is one of my favorite books. So incredibly insightful about life in general. And a very fast read. I've had a copy for over 30 years, and I get something new out of it every time I read it. Make SURE you buy the one translated by M.D. Herter Norton!! I've come to realize that the translation of a book is as big an art form as the writing of the book itself. I mistakenly bought a copy for a friend by a different translator, and it was horrible. The language was so simplistic, so pedantic, that much of the depth and beauty of the writing was lost. Seriously, anything by Rilke, go with this translator!
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on January 24, 2016
I'm a big Rilke fan and this book is great! I read his early work and did not realize that this book was in print. This is my favorite Rilke work. If unfamiliar with Rilke, at the very least, I recommend reading Rilke's bio on Wikipedia or another website. Enjoy! It really is great!
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on October 30, 2013
If you've never read this book, I recommend it for the experience. It's a quick read that gives you a glimpse into Rilke's perspective of life. It gives generally gives good life advice to the young poet writing him that I value today. For instance, Rilke tells the writer not to be too concerned with how others perceive him or whether they find his material worthy of accolades. I think today it's so easy to get caught up in being accepted and finding our worth from the eyes of others, but it's a dangerous trap. You'll live your life on a hamster wheel if you're constantly seeking approval of others without the self-confidence to take your own path. It's a great read and one that I'd return to periodically. A perfect gift for young people, especially. I think I'll get one for a cousin who's graduating high school soon.
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on December 14, 2016
This book consists of letters written by Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to 19-year old Franz Kappus, in response to Kappus seeking guidance and critique of some of his own poems. The letters provides any reader with immeasurable wisdom and inspiration. It is a must read for anyone who is working in the creative fields or simply feeling that their loneliness is overwhelming or prohibiting.
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