Rilke Through A Glass Darkly

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Roy Woods

Rilke Through A Glass Darkly: Poetry of R. M. Rilke and Its English Translations. A Critical Comparison

ISBN 978-3-88476-188-5, ISBN 3-88476-188-9, 252 S., kt., € 25,00 (1996)

(Schriftenreihe Literaturwissenschaft, Bd. 31)

It is enigmatic that of all German poets Rilke is probably the most widely translated and hence the most widely known outside the German-speaking world, despite the notorious "difficulty" of his work and despite the contention that poetry is untranslatable. His poems have been rendered into most of the major languages in the world, and in English alone there are some fourteen different versions of the Duineser Elegien as well as numerous translations of much of his other work. If poetry is really "what gets lost in translation", why has Rilke's work continued to be a source of fascination for translators? This question raises vital issues about the nature of language and poetry in general, and about Rilke's work in particular. This study examines these issues and shows how translators cannot take the poetry for granted; they must not be sidetracked into "extrinsic" aspects of his work – biographical details, the contribution he makes to religion and philosophy, to metaphysical poetry in general – they must grapple with particulars, with the very fabric of a given poem, with its "intrinsic" qualities, they must treat the poem qua poem. This study attempts to do something similar: it is based on the contention that an analysis of the problem of translation in the context of Rilke's work can lead to the heart of poetics and deepen our responses to his poetry, enhancing our appreciation of what makes it unique.