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.
About the Author
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875 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.
Edward Snow is a professor of English at Rice University. He is the recipient of an Academy of Arts and Letters Award for his Rainer Maria Rilke translations and has twice received the Academy of American Poets' Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. He is the author of A Study of Vermeer and Inside Bruegel.
“[Edward Snow] has emerged as Rilke's outstanding English-language interpreter . . . [He] is doing important work. Robert Lowell once wrote that it was hard to imagine Rilke first written in English, that the poems were sealed in German. Snow is unsealing them.” —Robert Phillips, Houston Chronicle