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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Poems from the Book of Hours by Rainier Maria Rilke


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I am feeling a little ripped-off right now. I just finished reading the tiny volume, Poems from the Book of Hours by Rainier Maria Rilke. The book is published by New Directions and translated by Babette Deutsch. It is a mere 51 pages long with poems appearing in the original German on one side of the page and the English translation on the other.

Two thoughts entered my head as I read through the collection. 1) I had no idea that Rilke held such different religious views from the mainstream and 2) I wondered why everyone is so crazy for this poet. I found most of the poems to be uninspiring and, frankly, confusing. My overall reading experience was "meh."

Then I visited Goodreads to read the reviews and I couldn't believe what I discovered. Everyone was gushing about the poems, the poet, and the translator. A few of the reviewers said they had originally read the book from a library book but had to purchase their own copy to keep. Several other people quoted lines from their favorite poems. This caused me to turn back to the book to look for those particular poems wondering if I had been half asleep when I read them since I remembered none of them. After a thorough investigation I discovered the favorite poems listed by other readers were not included in my volume. So the publisher, New Direction, included all the uninspiring poems and left out all the good ones? What a bummer.

The very first reviewer on Goodreads says her favorite poem, "I am praying again, Awesome One"
(Ich bete wieder, du Elauchter) is in the book. Nope, it is not. I've looked three times. Too bad, because I really like the sounds of the opening stanza:

You hear me again, as words
from the depths of me

rush toward you in the wind.

So maybe this one reviewer got confused. I continued to check for more mentioned poems.  The very next poem mentioned by a reviewer, "Widening Circles" is not in this volume, either. Another pity. This one (I found it online) is short but good but not in my volume unfortunately.

I live my life in widening circles

that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one 
but I give myself to it.

A third reviewer mentions another poem which I dearly want to read because it sounds fantastic. But, alas, it is not in this book, either. She quoted this stanza from a poem she didn't name:

We become so accustomed to you, 
we no longer look up

when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times
we just hear them more clearly. 

OK, I did find one reviewer who mentioned a poem which is actually in this volume. But by now I am so disgusted with this book I hardly notice. 

Do not, I repeat, do not read this volume of Rilke's poems. Take the time to read the complete Book of Hours, Love Poems to God, not this badly abridged version. But, I might add, based on the three examples from above, I really do want to read the complete Book of Hours some day just not today. I need my anger to simmer down a bit.

 Avoid this particular version:
 Rilke, Rainier Maria. Poems from the Book of Hours. New Directions: New York. (1941) 1975. ISBN: 9780811205955

3 comments:

  1. Wow. It's crazy how some publishing companies take liberties with books like this. I bought some sketchy Mark Twain books through Amazon, which people can just put out there because the copyright is expired. Good to know, thanks for the info!

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    1. I think this is the first time I've ever encountered such a thing. What I am curious about is what book did the other people actually read. I think I am going to have to run down a copy of the 2nd edition of this book to see if it includes these favorite poems. The complete Book of Hours: Love Poems to God doesn't have a very good review. The translators even took more creative license, apparently, which really irritated reviewers. Sigh. I am so curious to read the whole collection.

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    2. That is very strange. I hope you find the one everyone's talking about!

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