Rainer Maria Rilke
(1875 – 1926)
Rilke’s writing does not belong to any school, and his major artistic mentors were not poets at all, but the novelist Tolstoy and the sculptor Rodin, both of them unique, monumental and speaking beyond the times they lived in. Countless readers feel Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry speaks personally just to them, while at the same time opening glimpses into the infinite. I too feel the intimacy of Rilke’s voice as if he were a personal friend, and was drawn into translating his work unwittingly, the way a current might draw a swimmer out to sea. Years after translating the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, I learned my father had carried copies of these poems with him when he fled Nazi Germany in 1938, and used them later to court my mother. So the poems belong to what gave me life.