The Best of Rilke
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

72 Form-True Verse Translations
with Facing Originals, Commentary,
and Compact Biography

translated by Walter Arndt

foreword by Cyrus Hamlin

Dartmouth College
University Press of New England
Hanover, New Hampshire; 1989

187 pages June 2010

You must change your life

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is not for his general work one of my favorite poets, but he is the author of one of my favorite sonnets:

We have no inkling of the fabled head
Wherein the eyeballs ripened. Even so
His trunk still sends a candelabrum glow
By which his gaze, with just its wick set low,

Persists and gleams. ...

Rainer Maria Rilke
"Archaic Torso of Apollo"

The Best of Rilke is a bilingual collection with facing German-English pages, translated by Walter W. Arndt. A good selection of poems is present: others included which I particularly like are "Before the Summer Rain" and "Cretan Artemis".

The famous and Nietzschean "Archaic Torso of Apollo" of 1908 is analyzed in Cyrus Hamlin's foreword as well as in footnotes; and "Cretan Artemis", another sculptural poem, also receives helpful discussion. Arndt's notes and Compact Biography of Rilke, and Hamlin's foreword, are thoughtfully informative.

Arndt as translator

Walter W. Arndt is my favorite translator of Goethe's Faust, as well as of poetry by Pushkin and others. He is strong for verse translation of verse, particularly recreating the original poetic structure (verse forms) in the target language, English in our case. In several appendixes to The Best of Rilke, Arndt draws back the discreet Translators' Veil and shares some of his poetic-analytical machinery at work. For Rilke's "The Panther", the most famous of his animal poems, Arndt analyzes five previous versions by other translators, and then invites critiques by Joel Agee on his own working draft and then on his final draft. "Going Blind" and "Intimations of Reality" also receive analysis.

Arndt also provides two most interesting complementary epistolary poems, by Rilke and a longer one by Marina Tsvetaeva to each other. Rilke's is lyrically written toward the end of his life; Marina Tsvetaeva's is written afterwards: an amazing admixture of love-letter and fare-thee-well to Rilke in his new abode, in the other land.

That's my window. This minute
So gently did I alight
From sleep — was still floating in it.
Where has my life its limit
And where begins the night? ...

Rainer Maria Rilke
"Girl in Love"


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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