Rilke’s Late Poetry: Duino Elegies, the Sonnets to Orpheus and Selected Last Poems

ISBN: 1553800249
ISBN 13: 9781553800248
By: Rainer Maria Rilke Graham Good

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About this book

The late poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is one of the summits of European poetry in the twentieth century. Completed in 1922, as were T S Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Ulysses, Duino Elegies ranks with them as a classic of literary Modernism, and as an inquiry into the spiritual crisis of modernity. The ten long poems grapple with the issue of how the human condition and the role of art have altered in the modern era, with the decline of religion and the acceleration of technology.1922 also saw the unexpected birth and completion of a new work, The Sonnets to Orpheus, a cycle of 55 sonnets giving lyrical expression to the philosophical insights gained in the Elegies. This is dedicated to Orpheus, the mythic singer and lyre player, who becomes a symbol for Rilke of the acceptance of transience in life and transformation in art. The third part of the late poetry consists of the less known brief lyrics. Rilke wrote in the five years prior to his death in December 1926. These last poems constitute a kind of third testament, along with the Elegies and Sonnets. Graham Good's edition is the first to combine translations of all three into a single volume. original within fluid and readable English verse, while the introduction and detailed commentary elucidate the contexts, themes and allusions to help make Rilke's late poetry accessible to contemporary poetry lovers and spiritual seekers.

Reader's Thoughts

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.


şaire haksızlık etmek istemem ama çeviriler bence şiir kitapları için yetersiz kalıyor. yanlış anlaşılmasın çevirmenin de burda bir hatası olduğunu düşünmüyorum. fakat ne kadar okursam okuyayım şiirdeki ahengi bütünde bulamıyorum. ben de ahenkli bulduğum satırlarla yetinmeye çalışıyorum. Böyle saklamak istiyorum seni, kendini aynaya koyduğu gibi, en içine ve her şeyden uzağa. Rilke


Loved the Elegies, thought the Sonnets were a bit...uneven maybe? But still, oh, but still."Let yourself peal among the beamsof dark belfries."—from "Sonnet 29"


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.


I suspect I would have gotten a lot more out of this book, on an emotional level, were I more poetically-inclined/-informed/-etc. As it is, what few poems I understood intellectually were outstanding.This is one of those new-fangled high-speed books printed in dual languages. The English translations of the German, the few times I checked them, were both poetically and semantically sound.I know a huge number of people have gained great insight from reading Rilke's poetic output—but I guess I'm not one of them yet. This is definitely a work I want to pick up again later (I'm not completely put off by my lack of understanding of him at all—much of Rilke is very approachable), but I think this volume requires a bit more intensive study than I'm able to put out.

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."

Mish Middelmann

Rilke's poetry touches my deepest soul. So intense that it works best for me when I am in my most extreme states (no matter whether joy, anger, grief or fear). Lyrical, questing, stretching well beyond this life.

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."


"'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?"


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).

Stevie Lynne

so FUCKING good. like, SO fucking good. like he built a universe out of nothing. read the stephen mitchell translation-- not the one that's shown in this image.


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.


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.

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."

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.

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