Taka's Reviews > The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke
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Dec 05, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: japan_jul07-aug11, german_lit
Read in December, 2007

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror...

When I read that and the second elegy, I seriously got goosebumps all over my body. And some of the poems really blew me away. To be honest, however, so much of it just flew over my head that I need to read it again to even fathom Rilke's depth expressed in these beautiful poems. For me, the most interesting ones were The Book of Hours, The Duino Elegies, and The Sonnets to Orpheus, and it is too bad that Stephen Mitchell didn't translate all of the first and the third. The Book of Hours, with all of its religious overtones has a very distinct voice and ambience that are in some ways similar to and simpler (and perhaps shallower) than his last two magnum opuses. Stephen Mitchell only translates two poems out of this work, but there are very interesting poems other than those he translated. For example, from someone else's translation:

Extinguish my sight, and I can still see you;
plug up my ears, and I can still hear;
even without feet I can walk toward you,
and without mouth I can still implore.
Break off my arms, and I will hold you
with my heart as if it were a hand;
strangle my heart, and my brain will still throb;
and should you set fire to my brain,
I still can carry you with my blood.

Yeah. i rest my case. Then comes his Elegies, which are complex, profound, and simply beautiful, but considering how long it took the great poet to write it (10 years), a mere few hours spent in plowing through it in one sitting is just way, way too short to even comprehend what's going on (I did spend more than just a few hours, but many, many things about it escaped my understanding, and am more than glad to plunge back in and steep myself in it). Finally, same goes for the Sonnets, which he himself said in one of his letter that it is one of the most enigmatic and mysterious of all the poems he wrote: "Even to me ... the Sonnets to Orpheus are perhaps the most mysterious, most enigmatic dictation I have ever endured and achieved..." So a lot of them perplexed me and I didn't know how to read or understand them, which is not to say that they are worthless flimflam - not at all (though he does say, "True singing is a different breath, about / nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind"). It seems that it just takes time to see what's going on beneath the beautiful and graceful language and penetrate to the bottom (if there is one).

For my first read, I gathered and picked up what I could, wondering at the shining gems of poetry in all their reflections. And I do think that reading poetry is just this: finding, however rare, those that speak your voice and resonate with your soul.

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