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Sonnets to Orpheus

Sonnets to Orpheus

Rainer Maria Rilke; Translated from the German by Edward Snow

North Point Press

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Breathing, you invisible poem!
World-space in pure continuous interchange
with my own being. Equipose
in which I rhythmically transpire.

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 Hades as a result of Orpheus's backward glance, becomes in Rilke's universe a mythical figure of consolation and hope.

Edward Snow, in his translations of New Poems, The Book of Images, Uncollected Poems, and Duino Elegies, has emerged as Rilke's most able English-language interpreter. Adhering faithfully to the intent of Rilke's German while constructing nuanced, colloquial poems in English, Snow's Sonnets to Orpheus should serve as the authoritative translation for years to come.

Praise for Sonnets to Orpheus

“[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 on Duino/Elegies (NPP, 2000)

“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 on The Book of Images (NPP, 1994)

“Rilke's first great work . . . [Snow's translation] is clear, accurate, and fluent” —Stephen Mitchell on New Poems (NPP, 1987)

“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) on Duino Elegies (NPP, 2000)

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Reviews from Goodreads

Rainer Maria Rilke; Translated from the German by Edward Snow

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was born in Prague and traveled throughout Europe for much of his adult life, returning frequently to Paris. There he came under the influence of the sculptor Auguste Rodin and produced much of his finest verse, most notably the two volumes of New Poems , as well as the great modernist novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Among his other books of poems are The Book of Images and The Book of Hours. He lived the last years of his life in Switzerland, where he completed his two poetic masterworks, the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. He died of leukemia in December 1926.

Rainer Maria Rilke

North Point Press

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