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Poetry

A Relentless Pursuit of Beauty

A majestic new bilingual volume of Rilke's poetry.

Book Cover If you can set aside (any) concerns about poetry in translation then you may rejoice at the publication of The Poetry of Rilke (FSG) edited by Edward Snow, a highly regarded contemporary translator of Rilke. This volume contains over 250 of the influential German poet’s work including complete translations of the “Sonnets to Orpheus” and the “Duino Elegies.”
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic
orders? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly to his heart: I’d be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can just barely endure,
and we stand in awe of it as it coolly disdains
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.

—from “The First Elegy”
This bilingual edition spans the entirety of Rilke’s work from The Book of Hours up to weeks before his death, with illuminating annotations by Snow. Poet Adam Zagajewski’s enlightening introduction, “Rereading Rilke,” claims:
We read Rilke for his poetry, for his prose, for his novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and for hundreds if not thousands of the letters he left, but there seems to be another important motive too: in our eyes his life presents itself as a flawless example of a modern artist’s existence, an example purer perhaps than any other, perfect in its relentless pursuit of beauty.
That doesn’t seem bombastic when you contemplate the poet Rilke’s view that “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.”
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