Sonnets to Orpheus

Sonnets to Orpheus

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by Rainer Maria Rilke, Martyn Crucefix

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Written during an outburst of creativity during a period of only two weeks in February 1922, Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus is one of the great poetic works of the twentieth century. Willis Barnstone brings these poems into English; this dual-language edition allows the reader to compare versions face-to-face to get a clearer sense of the nuances of the translation. Also…  See more details below


Written during an outburst of creativity during a period of only two weeks in February 1922, Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus is one of the great poetic works of the twentieth century. Willis Barnstone brings these poems into English; this dual-language edition allows the reader to compare versions face-to-face to get a clearer sense of the nuances of the translation. Also included is an extensive introduction from the translator that offers a biographical sketch of Rilke and reflects upon the ever-present tension between the poet's passion for life, romance, and adventure, and his yearning for the solitude he desperately needed to dedicate himself fully to his art.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With acclaimed versions of The Duino Elegies and Uncollected Poems already in print, Edward Snow's historic rendering of the Rilke oeuvre gets one step closer to completion with Sonnets to Orpheus. Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) composed the first set of 26 sonnets just before completing the monumental elegies, and the second 29 just after. Rendered here without rhyme and with German facing text, Snow makes clear why the sonnets are "Sayable only by the singer./ Audible only by the god." Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus (published 1923 in German) rank with the most distinguished works of modern poetry. Written in an extraordinary burst of inspiration, these poems reveal a vision of ``a mode of being in which all the ordinary human dichotomies (life/death, good/evil) are reconciled in an infinite wholeness.'' Stephen Mitchell's translations are masterful re-creations of the original, giving both precise renderings of Rilke's language and sensitive interpretations of his poetic intent. This fine dual-language edition is highly recommended. Ulrike S. Rettig, German Dept., Hervard Univ.
From the Publisher
“An undisputed masterpiece by one of the greatest modern poets translated here by a master of translation”—Voice Literary Supplement

Praise for Duino/Elegies (NPP, 2000)

"[Snow's work stands the highest test that can be put to any translation: it would be a worthy poetic achivement even without the original to prop it up."
-- Brian Phillips, The New Republic

Praise for The Book of Images (NPP, 1994)

"Edward Snow, who so insightfully translated the two volumes of Rilke's New Poems, has now turned to The Book of Images, one of the poet's most startling and diverse masterworks. Snow has rendered with great skill and accuracy a work both familiar and unknown, more complicated and more immediate than many have suspected, at once grave, mysterious, and beautiful." --Edward Hirsch

Praise for New Poems (NPP, 1987):

Rilke's first great work . . . [Snow's translation] is clear, accurate, and fluent."
--Stephen Mitchell

Praise for Duino Elegies (NPP, 2000)

"I have been engrossed in English versions of Duino Elegies for years, and Snow's is by far the most radiant and, as far as I can tell, the most faithful . . . Reading this rendition provided new revelations into Rilke's symbolic landscapes of art, death, love and time."
--Frederic Koeppel, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

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Enitharmon Press
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What People are saying about this

Stanley Plumly
“An artful and sensitive translation of this most elusive of Rilke’s poetry…the thing that Rilke made is once again alive to us, all of it…Young has subtracted…the most persistent problem with other translations: he does not let the music of the form haunt the poem. There is no rhetorical ‘rounding-out,’ in either Pound’s fine phrase, emotional slither. The reader feels that Young has successfully ‘inhabited’ the form, found a correlative language.”
From the Publisher
"Willis Barnstone has been appointed a special angel to bring 'the other' to our attention, to show how it is done. He illuminates the spirit for us and he clarifies the unclarifiable. I think he does this by beating his wings."—Gerald Stern

"Willis Barnstone's versions of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus are daring, passionate, and beautiful. The choices he makes between beauty, song, and literalness serve a cause Rilke would approve. Of all translations of the sonnets, Barnstone's songs tame the animals while serving Rilke's great art."—Stanley Moss, author of A History of Color

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Sonnets to Orpheus 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Go to the poetry section of any major bookstore and you will find numerous versions of Rilke¿s profound and captivating Sonnets to Orpheus, plus many other volumes of his. Besides Dante, Neruda, García Lorca and Rumi, he is one of the world poets most translated into English. Many good versions have been produced and I have bought and enjoyed reading most of them in the past, except some of the earlier, more crabbed versions from last century. The version I remember liking the most was David Young¿s, which, unfortunately, I do not have at hand for comparison. Since I don¿t know German and can¿t access the original, which must be a marvel, I have to trust my instincts concerning an English version, and my instincts tell me to trust Willis Barnstone, one of our foremost translators. This new volume, published by Shambala, includes a revision of Mr. Barnstone¿s earlier translation of the Sonnets published in To Touch the Sky, by New Directions Press, 1999. Mr. Barnstone has not made any major changes to that earlier translation, though he has gone through and made important fine-tunings which give some poems more fluency at certain points than they previously possessed, though the earlier versions read quite smoothly. These changes may not seem important or even that noticeable to the general reader, but they are to the translator and to the more specialized reader. Translation, especially literary translation, is always a work in progress, unless abandoned by the translator. Fortunately, Mr. Barnstone chose not to abandon this work yet, and so we have a newer, brighter version of the Sonnets to enjoy. Another benefit of this volume is the extensive, generous and compassionate introduction. Mr. Barnstone has over the years become a master of the introductory essay, besides being a master translator and poet. The introduction in this volume is the best I¿ve read to date about Rilke. Other introductions have been excellent and informative, but this one provides the most lucid overall picture of Rilke, his life and his art that I can imagine short of reading some of the book-length biographies Mr. Barnstone used as resources. For those interested in the art of translation, a small essay about the tradition of translating the Sonnets in English follows the Introduction. Initially, Mr. Barnstone generously acknowledges the fine work done in the past, starting with J.B. Leishman in 1936 and C.F. MacIntrye in 1940--those earlier 'crabbed' versions I mention above--which makes me want to seek them out again, if only to understand where they have been successful. He then goes on to explain his approach: making the 'literal literary.' This is vastly more difficult than it sounds, and calls for a craftsman of profound skill and experience. To be literal, but unmusical, which is what I understand Mr. Barnstone to mean when he uses the term 'literalistic,' is to deprive the reader of the poem, though it may give a more accurate understanding of the 'meanings' of the words. As Mr. Barnstone points out, when translating poetry, one must attempt the impossible: to make the translation sing in the target language while staying as accurate as possible to the original. It is an impossible task--a quixotic task, to say the least--,especially when attempting to approximate original meter and rhyme scheme, but like many attempts at the impossible, it can at times yield felicitous results, and one of these is Mr. Barnstone¿s Sonnets to Orpheus. If you or one of your poetry-loving friends haven¿t encountered this amazing, multi-layered and influential book yet, Mr. Barnstone¿s volume makes an excellent starting point. If you have read other translations, this one will serve to either re-kindle your interest or inspire you to do