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In Praise of Mortality Paperback – 7 Feb 2006


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Paperback, 7 Feb 2006
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First Sentence
FOR A DECADE that encompassed the First World War, Rainer Maria Rilke, already recognized as a major poet, wondered in torment whether he had lost the voice and inspiration that gave rise to his work. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 2 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Wonderfully readable and clear translation 21 Jun 2008
By Shalom Freedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is on the whole a wonderfully readable and clear translation. It makes the work of a very difficult poem quite comprehensible. Two technical elements are problematic. First, the decision is made here to translate selections of 'Sonnets from Orpheus' and 'Duino Elegies'. There is no reason given for not translating the works as a whole. It is impossible to understand the logic behind this especially as the one of the major tasks of the reader is to sense the connections between the poems, feel the overlapping of the themes and their development. Presenting 'selections' in this way deprives the reader of a major tool.
A second problem is in the layout of the 'Duino Elegies' in the text. Instead of the original German on one page, and the translation facing it we are given each work separately. So the whole task for the reader of looking at the original and seeing what has been done with it in the translation is made more difficult.
Here is the translation of the beginning of the first Elegy, followed by the Stephan Mitchell translation for comparison.
The first elegy begins in this translation as follows:

"If I cried out, who
in the heirarchies of angels
would hear me?

And if one of them should suddenly
take me to his heart,
I would perish in the power of his being.
For beauty is but the beginning of terror.
We can barely endure it
and are awed
when it declines to destroy us.

Every angel is terrifying in that way.
So I hold myself back
and let my scream for help
be swallowed by sobbing."

Stephen Mitchell translates the same passage as follows:
The First Elegy
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?

and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,

and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing."

There is a certain complexity of syntax in the Mitchell translation which gives me a sense of being closer to the original. But I actually find the Barrows and Macy translation more understandable and readable.
In any case while again regretting the fact that we have the part and not the whole, the translation itself is a valuable contribution to those who would read and understand this poet of angels, questionings, silence, mysteries, hidden turnings, darknesses, roses, symbolic meetings, searches for the heavy meanings of mind , affirmations of love, and pain, beauty, terror and poetry in life.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
incredible 4 Nov 2012
By childrenofsa - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rilke says everything I need to be said. He knows that 'each of us is alone' but by and through his writing in general he gives one comfort to that very singular realization, if that makes any sense. The idea and image of love and beauty as terrifying hits home and is so welcome in our world of no privacy and little time and space for solitude and reflection. Translation is wonderful. However I do not read German, which I trust is even more beautiful than the English.
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