Written only four years before Rilke's death, this sequence of sonnets, varied in form yet consistently structured, stands as the poet's final masterwork. In these meditations on the constant flux of our world and the ephemerality of experience, Rilke envisions death not only as one among many of life's transformations but also as an ideally receptive state of being. Because Orpheus has visited the realm of death and returned to the living, his lyre, a unifying presence in these poems, is an emblem of fluidity and musical transcendence. And Eurydice, condemned to return to Hades as a result of Orpheus's backward glance, becomes in Rilke's universe a mythical figure of consolation and hope.
In his translations of New Poems, The Book of Images, Uncollected Poems, and Duino Elegies, Edward Snow has emerged as Rilke's most able English-language interpreter. Adhering faithfully to the intent of Rilke's German while constructing nuanced, colloquial, approachable poems in English, Snow's Sonnets to Orpheus should serve as the authoritative translation for years to come.
"Snow has gradually been building a reputation as Rilke's best contemporary translator in English . . . [His] work stands the highest test that can be put to any translation: it would be a worthy poetic achievement even without the original to prop it up."—Brian Philips, The New Republic
"Edward Snow is doing important work. Robert Lowell once wrote that it was hard to imagine Rilke first written in English, that the poems were sealed in German. Snow is unsealing them."—Robert Phillips, Houston Chronicle
"This fine dual-language edition is highly recommended."—Library Journal
"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.'"—Publishers Weekly