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


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.


I apologize. I don't speak German, and I just don't understand this. The chains of images don't always follow from one another, and, rather than extending metaphors, he just mixes them. I do not enjoy being confused, much less being confused every single page. It felt like reading Gibran or Ashbery, and had me running back to Keats. I'd rather read a cookbook--at least it's lucid.

Debbie Hu

Yesterday our campus bookstore had a sale and so I went and bought books including this one. Then instead of doing math homework I laid in the grass and read Rilke out loud to myself for two hours. I didn't mind that my throat got dry after a while.


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).

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.

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.


I loved the First Elegy, but everything afterward annoyed the hell out of me. Taken one phrase at a time, a lot of what Rilke has to say is interesting, and he does seem to have a way with words (if the translation is anywhere close to the original German), but the little frightened mama's boy that starts to emerge is a very unattractive figure, and seen in that light his intellectual exercises seem like hollow replacements for real living. Maybe I just wasn't getting it. It seems like every time I think I've found a poet I like who lived later than 18th century, I get frustrated with either their pointless obscurantism which barely conceals the fact that they're actually writing about nothing at all, or I find them dreadfully, embarrassingly earnest. I would accuse Rilke of both.

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."


"...beauty's nothingbut the start of terror we can hardly bear,and we adore it because of the serene scornit could kill us with. Every angel's terrifying.So I control myself and choke back the lureof my dark cry....You still don't understand? Throw the emptiness inyour arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birdswill feel the air thinning as they fly deeper...""Lovers, satisfied with each other, I'm asking youabout us. You hold each other. What's your proof?Look, sometimes it happens my hands become awareof each other, or my worn out face seeks shelterin them. Then I feel a slight sensation.But who'd dare to exist just for that?"




hmm, Duino, so beauty is the skin of terror, or it's the pavers on the road that leads to terror, or terror really means horror, and beauty is really divinity emulsified. Angels are scary, in any case. Works for me.


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.


Kadangi su poezija nelabai sutariu, t.y. nelabai ją „pagaunu“, negaliu tvirtinti, kad iš tiesų perskaičiau... tiksliau būtų pasakyti nuskanavau.

David Radavich

Rainer Maria Rilke is one of my all-time favorite poets - an artist of stunningly original gifts. I always read his work in German, which is a special gift, because although I have translated his work myself, so much of the original genius is untranslatable. Nonetheless, I recommend that everyone give the English a try and glance now and then at the German originals.


Both of these books are translations, but try to get the translations from Edward Snow. Ellen Bass told me he is one of the very best translators for Rilke.

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