The New Republic
Duino Elegiesby Rainer Maria Rilke
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Perhaps no cycle of poems in any European language has made so profound and lasting an impact on an English-speaking readership as Rilke's Duino Elegies. These luminous new translations by Martyn Crucefix, facing the original German texts, make it marvellously clear how the poem is committed to the real world observed with acute and visionary intensity.
Completed in 1922, the same year as the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land, the Elegies constitute a magnificent godless poem in their rejection of the transcendent and their passionate celebration of the here and now. Troubled by our insecure place in this world and our fractured relationship with death, the Elegies are nevertheless populated by a throng of vivid and affecting figures: acrobats, lovers, angels, mothers, fathers, statues, salesmen, actors and children. This bilingual edition offers twenty-first century readers a new opportunity to experience the power of Rilke's enduring masterpiece.
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Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic
orders? And even if one of them pressed me
suddenly to his heart: I'd be consumed
in his stronger existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can just barely endure,
and we stand in awe of it as it coolly disdains
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.
-from "The First Elegy"
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Meet the Author
Rainer Maria Rilke (also Rainer Maria von Rilke) (4 December 1875 - 29 December 1926) is considered one of the German language's greatest 20th century poets. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety - themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. His two most famous verse sequences are the Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland.
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