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


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 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.

Jeffrey W.

Pretty uneven, but there are moments of greatness.


A constant companion.Rilke's verse has been attempted by many a translator (Edward Snow and Stephen Mitchell are favorites), but not one has truly approached the master himself. For the Greeks, the poet was a "maker" (poeites) who coaxed new creations out of language. Rilke does not merely create from language; he recreates language itself, bending the rigid German language into fluid shapes, startling sounds. For these final poems to the Angel and to Orpheus, Lorca's poem "Abajo" might serve as the best commentary: El espacio estrellado se refleja en sonidos. Lianas espectrales. Arpa laberíntica. The expansiveness of starspace reflects itself in sounds. Phantasmatic creepers. Labyrinthine harp.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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

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."


"'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?"

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.


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.


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.

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