Ruth Speirs’ Rilke stands up to comparison with other translations

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“IT WAS A GOOD IDEA to collect together Ruth Speirs’ translations of Rilke…

The insistence she makes is that sense has priority, because Rilke’s word choice was precise rather than impressionistic or ornamental. Her task was then to show exactly what Rilke was doing with language at every point of the text. The sense lay in the knots and gaps but also in the reach of the sentence, both involved in the perceptual discoveries made in the writing, which must be rendered free of both obfuscation and reductive forms of clarity. There are no doubt failures, and there are indecisions, but for the most part the result is a balance which even more recent experts cannot seem to manage without wooden awkwardness—…

Ruth Speirs’ Rilke cannot become anyone’s definitive English Rilke, since the impossibility of a book meant that she made no attempt to cover all Rilke’s major works. The Duino Elegies are all here, but only twenty of the Sonnets to Orpheus, with a generous selection from New Poems and a scatter of earlier poems. But as a check on and comparison with other translations I think it would be extremely useful.

An extract from a review which appears in Part Two of an extended essay by Peter Riley on translated poetry, Poetry Notes, published in The Fortnightly Review.