Review: The Rilke of Ruth Speirs in TLS

“….why given the super abundance of Rilke translations available are we being offered “her” (Ruth Speirs) Rilke?”

This question is at the heart of Charlie Louth’s TLS review, “Untormented”  of The Rilke of Ruth Speirs: New Poems, Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus, & Others (8 April 2016). He argues that Rilke poses a balance to the well-known translations of J.B. Leishman whose translations were published by Hogarth Press (who had an exclusive agreement with Rilke’s German publisher):


Hers are some of the most supple, patient, responsive and exact versions of Rilke around….

Speirs marks her difference from Leishman by making no attempt to follow Rilke’s rhyming, arguing ….the “Rilke’s abundance of meaning does not depend on rhyme for its transmission, but bursts upon us in some degree even through a ‘prose’ translation, if only we let him speak in words that, in kindred language, are as closely equivalent to his own as is possible to render them.”  Whatever the truth of that, it is clearly better to have plain, accurate versions that do without rhyme rather than overwrought, hit-and-miss versions that are impeded by it, and it is not much of an exaggeration to think of Speirs’ Rilke as an “anti-Leishman”…. Her translations have a sense of quietness, the language seems sure footed, unforced, tending to tone down rather than work up, finely attentive to the German but not in awe of it or even tempted to abandon its own measured resources.  And her versions are not ‘prose’ and don’t pass up opportunities to hint at the rhyme or to compensate for its absence by other means.  She follows and has faith in the sense, in Rilke’s and her own.

The Rilke of Ruth Speirs is available here.