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The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (English and German Edition) Paperback – March 13, 1989

4.6 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Stephen Mitchell offers what are perhaps the most masterful and intimate translations of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry to date, infusing it with all the power, eloquence, rhythm and lightness of its original voice. Includes the Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus.

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...translations [that] bring the qualities that I most cherish in the originals into English with new intimacy and authority. Rilke's voice, with it's extraordinary combination of formality, power, speed, and lightness, can be heard in Mr. Mitchell's versions more clearly than in any others. His work is masterful. -- W.S. Merwin
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 356 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 13, 1989)
  • Language: English, German
  • ISBN-10: 0679722017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,453 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. M. Dale on February 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
With this particular volume of Rilke, you get two things: (1) perhaps the finest example of German poetry (the book is bilingual) this side of Schiller, and (2) without a doubt the finest translation of Rilke, or probably any poet, you will ever encounter in English. Hefty praise, but I can say no less about this magnificent book. I often find myself reading the English more than the German, the translations are so elegant. In its review of the volume, the New York Times Book Review said that "it is easy to feel that, if Rilke had written in English, he would have written in this English." I concur. I am no fan of Mitchell's Daodejing translation, though I know that he says up front that he is interpreting more than translating in that work. But Rilke volume is a triumph. Often, translators of poetry feel that they have to re-write the poem in order to get der Sinn, and Mitchell, himself a minor poet, could have done that easily and given us a nice book (even bad Rilke by a good translator is better than no Rilke at all). Mitchell did not do that; he very simply gave us Rilke, Rilke's poems, in English. They say what Rilke said, I don't know how else to say that. Mitchell wisely does not try to reproduce Rilke's rhyme schemes, though he does seem to match Rilke's alliterations note for note. This is not a flaw in the translations by any means; complex, artful, infuriating German sentence structure being what it is, I cannot imagine successfully duplicating the rhymes and still making a book as beautiful as the one Mitchell has made.Read more ›
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"You are not my favorite poet. That implies comparison. You are poetry itself." in a letter from Marina Tseteyeva to Rilke.
Since I do not speak German, I can speak neither to the accuracy of translation nor interpretation (realizing that they are separate concepts). But I can tell you that this keeps me coming back for more (so much so I have 2 copies, plus a hardback, which differs slightly in content). It's the sort of book that if I loan it, I'm astonished to get it back. And don't really mind.
Mitchell has included in his notes excerpts from diaries and letters which I otherwise would never have had the joy of knowing, nor insght into not only the heart of the poet, but the heart of God as well.
Mitchell also has the integrity to refrain from attempting to translate some works which, I believe, he would have otherwise loved to share. His rationale, from the intro to the "Notes" section, follows:
"Translating poems into equivalent formal patterns is to some extent a matter of luck, or grace, and this is especially true of rhymed poems. Rilke called rhyme "a goddess of secret and ancient coincidences" and said that "she is very capricious; one cannot summon or foresee her; she comes as happiness comes, hands filled with the achievement that is already in flower." Some of my favorite poems never got beyond a rough draft, because that sweet goddess refused to make even the briefest appearance."
This poetry is a love letter to life, no matter what an acedemic might say about the relative merits of the translation/ interpretation. Reading Rilke, I understand why Jung (I think it was Jung) said, "Everywhere I go, I find the poet is there before me." (or words to that effect) Enjoy.
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Format: Paperback
Over the years I have owned and read a number of translations of Rilke's verse. I find this superb volume translated by Stephen Mitchell to be both the best selection of his poetry and the finest translation. Take nearly any of the poems in this volume and set it beside a competing translation, and the Mitchell version is both more poetic and more in keeping with the spirit of Rilke.
This volume collections all of the Duino Elegies, and generous portions of the various collections, including a fair number of the Sonnets to Orpheus. For most, this will be the only edition of Rilke's verse that they will need.
These are some great, great poems. Apart from the Duino Elegies, I believe my favorites would include the amazing "Archaic Torso of Apollo," in which the poet becomes so entranced studying the statue that it proclaims to him in closing, "You must change your life." "The Panther" is without any question one of the most haunting poems of the twentieth century, with its building sense of some great revelation, only to end with the expected image plunging into the heart and disappearing. My favorite poem in the collection, however, may be one from the UNCOLLECTED POEMS, the amazing "You Who Never Arrived," in which the poet muses on all the occasions upon which he and his beloved never met (Rilke's belief was that we are destined never to meet our true love), but nevertheless perhaps came tantalizing close. For instance, he walks into a shop from which she has just left, where the "mirrors are still dizzy with your presence." He ends his musings, "Who knows? perhaps the same/bird echoed through both of us/yesterday, separate, in the evening . . . "
This is an essential volume for any lover of great poetry. I can't recommend this highly enough.
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