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Pictures of God: Rilke's Religious Poetry, including 'The Life of the Virgin Mary' [Paperback]

Rainer Maria Rilke , Annemarie S. Kidder

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Book Description

30 Jun 2005
This is the first comprehensive collection of poems of Rainer Maria Rilke's work on religious and biblical themes. Drawing mostly on Rilke's later work, the collection contains also the complete poetic cycle of "The Life of the Virgin Mary," and constitutes the first English translation in over fifty years.
The book includes an introduction to the works from which the selections are taken, along with a commentary on the various objects of art that might have inspired the poet. Icons, Renaissance paintings, and sculpture are rendered here in poetic form, producing a kaleidoscope of images of the divine, or Pictures of God. Highly visual in nature, these pictures poems are grouped under the subject headings of God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Pilgrimage, and Poverty, revealing unique and fresh interpretations of biblical passages and Christian imagery.

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This is a comprehensive collection of Rainer Maria Rilke's religious poetry, including the first translation of "The Life of the Virgin Mary" in over fifty years. German and English are on facing pages, with the translation preserving the poet's lyrical voice and intent.
This is an indispensable book for all Rilke lovers, as well as those interested and engaged in the intersection of religion and the arts, beauty and the transcendent.

Annemarie Kidder is associate pastor at The First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and author of "Women, Celibacy, and the Church: Toward a Theology of the Single Life" (Crossroad Publishing, 2003). She has translated numerous theological works, including Rainer Maria Rilke's "Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God" (Northwestern University Press, 2001).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

(Of the New Poems' Other Part, 1908)

At one time I was soft like early wheat,
but you, raging one, did succeed
to incite my heart offered up to you,
so it boils like that of wild beasts.

What kind of mouth you imposed on me,
back then, when I was barely grown:
a wound it became: and from it seep
misfortunes, on and on.

Daily I resounded with the latest strains,
which you, the ever hungry, thought up;
since they were unable to kill my mouth,
you, go see to it that it shuts;

as soon as those we sought to crush and destroy
have dissipated and run away
and melted in fear out of sight:
I should like, amidst the debris,
recover my voice that was from the start
a weeping and a cry.

Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because of the pain over his fruitless efforts to call the poeple of Judah back from their heathen practices and unto repentance; he is unable to avert the Lord's punishment of Judah, so that its inhabitants are taken into Babylonian captivity following the fall of Jerusalem in B.C. 586. Jeremiah is also credited with the authorship of the Book of Lamentations. Paris, mid-August, 1907

Anticipating the Passion
(The Life of the Virgin Mary, 1912)

If you had really wanted to be strong,
you would not have come from a woman's womb.
For messiahs are quarried from mountains
where the sturdy and strong comes from stone.

Are you not sorry to have despoiled your land
by such limitations? I am weak, don't you see;
I only had streams of milk or tears to offer,
and you were ever so much more than me.

So much ado when your birth to me was announced.
You could have been born fierce and wild from the start.
If you only needed tigers to tear you to pieces,
why did I learn gentleness as an art

by which I wove for you a soft, pure gown
without even the slightest seam
for comfort--: that's how my life has been,
which you now have turned upside down.

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars translations of his religious poetry 18 Jan 2007
By Daniel B. Clendenin - Published on Amazon.com
In recent years many critics have come to admire Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 in Prague, Austria-Hungary - 29 December 1926 in Valmont (Switzerland)) as the German language's greatest poet of the 20th century. After he died of leukemia at the age of 51, the critical edition of his collected works in German eventually filled 12 volumes. More modest readers like myself, then, will be grateful for Kidder's original translations of sixty-one of his religious poems that cover a thirty-year period of his life. She previously translated Rilke's book The Book of Hours; Prayers to a Lowly God (Northwestern University Press, 2001).

Rilke grew up in an unhappy home, including a brief stint in a military academy. From very early he always knew that his life was meant for literature, poetry, and writing. His mother was zealously Catholic and outwardly pious, according to Kidder, both of which backfired on Rilke who rejected such displays as "grotesque and meaningless." Instead, Rilke cultivated an "inward piety" that in his poetry explored the problems and possibilities of religious faith in an age of unbelief and personal anxiety. "A frequent theme," Kidder remarks, "is the human heart's insatiable longing for the transcendent, the divine," which for Rilke expressed itself in religious proclivities that were decidedly unorthodox.

After her brief introduction, Kidder organizes Rilke's religious poetry according to five themes: God, The Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, The Pilgrimage, and Poverty. The lefthand page contains the original German, and the right side her translations, accompanied by brief notes about the possible time, place, and origins of the poems. In addition to the Christian story, Greek mythology figured large as a source for Rilke's poetic imagination. Rilke readers new and old can now enjoy the first-ever collection of his specifically religious and Biblical poetry thanks to Kidder's expertise.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rilke's Raptures 29 July 2009
By William B. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
A quite-nice edition of Rilke's faith-centered poetry. Includes the complete "Life of Mary" poem cycle, which would later be set to music by Paul Hindemith (twice, in German) and, more recently, by Andrew Smith (with Anna Deavere Smith narrating, in English translation, in accompaniment with Washington National Cathedral Musicians).
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