Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus

ISBN: 0395250587
ISBN 13: 9780395250587
By: Rainer Maria Rilke A. Poulin Jr.

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About this book

Rilke is one of the most widely read poets of the 20th century. In his poetry, Rilke addresses the problems of death, God, and "destructive time," and attempts to overcome and transform these problems into an indestructive inner world.

Reader's Thoughts

Beverly Atkinson

Roger Housden's "ten poems to change your live again & again" begins with Part Two, XII of Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus." Housden includes this sonnet (from a translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy) and then explicates the poem, commenting on it from his own life experience. Reading this particular sonnet led to get a copy of all the "Sonnets to Orpheus," dual language edition with the German translated by Stephen Mitchell, from the public library. Although my German proficiency is weak from disuse, I was compelled to read (orally) each sonnet first in German, then in English, stop to reflect, and read again in German. What an enriching experience!I came across Anita Barrows while reading Krista Tippett, "Speaking of Faith" and/or "Einstein's God" (I think the latter) which led me again to Rilke, this time "The Book of Hours."


I'm not sure how I made it this long without reading and Rilke, but after reading Gravity's Rainbow I felt compelled, finally, to read the poems that so influenced Pynchon. The Duino Elegies are really amazing, even in translation.

Alex Obrigewitsch

These works are the epitome of Rilke's greatness.Mitchell's translations are good as well, sticking fairly close to Rilke's language(if that makes any sense when speaking of translation)

Justin Evans

Probably the most infuriating book of poetry I've ever read, perhaps will ever read. The highs and lows are so dizzyingly high and so mind-numbingly, banally low that I couldn't always keep pace. The first and tenth elegies were high, the other elegies interesting and beautiful, if you can stomach the whole whiney little boy thing he falls into occasionally, and his affection for idiot-metaphysics ('Sein Aufgang ist Dasein' and so forth). Many of the sonnets, however, are appalling. Once Rilke ditches the generally critical stance of the elegies (complaints on injustice, suffering etc...) the idiot-metaphysics becomes overwhelming: "Be - and at the same time know the implication of non-being... to nature's whole supply of speechless, dumb, and also used up things, the unspeakable sums,rejoicing, add yourself and nullify the count." Not to say there aren't great sonnets in there too, but my overall impression was one of disgust at this wonderful poet - what's more human than poetry? - wanting to become an object, thrilling in a mysticism of death. Add this to the apparent desire for a god to save us from the injustice and suffering so perfectly evoked in the elegies (uh... couldn't we save ourselves?), and my brain explodes. Because the whole thing is so beautiful, and at once so horrible, that there's nothing else for my brain to do.


I consider myself an avid Rilke fan, and this was surprisingly my least favorite of his work, considering how highly celebrated the Duino Elegies are. It had its moments of course, but the works in Uncollected Poems speak much more to me than these Elegies or Sonnets.


I don't know what's going on for half of this book, but I'm not sure I care--that's how gorgeous some of these lines are. Really lovely and mysterious.


I wish I was fancy enough to comment on this translation versus others. Alas, I am not fancy. Only deeply impressed by Rilke's elegies. I had read them before and enjoyed the terrifying angel, and Rilke's observation that terror must be attendant to beauty. But this reading, oh, this reading. If I had the eyes and mentality of an animal I might be able to do justice to all that is beautiful here. But I am only too human.

Matthew Mitchell

These poems had a huge impact on me in college. Finally, poems about life! "...animals already know by instinct that we are not comfortably at home in our translated world."

Jeffrey W.

Pretty uneven, but there are moments of greatness.

christopher leibow

An OK translation of the Elegies, but an excellent translation of the Sonnets. It you know the Elegies you have to read the Sonnets, you will not be disappointed.

Mark Bennett

Read and reread the Elegies in different translations from the library. Decided to buy this particular translation for my bookshelf.From the Sonnets,"Oh where are we? Freer and freer,like kites torn loose, tattered by wind,we race midair, edged with laughter."

Jeremy Sabol

pretty good translation - not as transcendent as mitchell'sbook description says "long considered the definitive translation blah blah blah..." huh? by who?


Something is definitely lost in translation. I have no doubt that Stephen Mitchell is the anglo authority on Rilke, and this is probably as good as it gets, but all I could think is that I really need to learn German to appreciate the original (not to mention also getting around to reading my favourite book Das Parfum in its original language...) I've come to realize that I don't like reading translations of poetry. The only exception being Baudelaire, translated by Poe (and vice-versa - check it out if you're bilingual. I guess they used to have depressed bromies translation seshes).


Poesía elegiaca, intimista y reflexiva.De gran belleza, aunque a mi juicio demasiado abstracta. Únicamente, en alguno de los sonetos, se refleja la pasión por la vida y la poesía.

Jeffrey Bumiller

This is a beautiful book. I find it very surprising that this somewhat new (2009) book marks the first time these two works have been collected together, considering how strongly Rilke felt about them working in tandem. I find the story of the genesis of these poems almost as interesting as the poems themselves: Rilke's years of depression, his experience in WWI, the somewhat exotic location of their composition, all culminating in Rilke's "hurricane of the spirit" and the feverish completion of these poems.I can't comment on the translation of these poems since this is the only time I've read them. Stephen Mitchell has also translated every other book of Rilke's that I've read. He is, apparently, The man to turn to for translations of Rilke's work. I found these highly intense, powerful poems inspiring and they renewed my belief in, and fascination with the idea of the "muse." (Rilke apparently heard the first line of the first elegy from a disembodied voice while out on a walk.)The Endnotes, some of which are made up of Rilke's letters, add a whole other layer to the poems as well.This is an incredible book, an important book, and it will remain very close to me.

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