Saturday poetry pick: Duino Elegies

I confess: I have not read all the way through Rainier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. Why not? Great question! But I’ve long heard about Duino Elegies, and when Tavern Books came out with a translation by Gary Miranda, I knew that would be my starting point.

I say starting, because I could read these poems many times over, and study them in between. I feel like I’m beginning a lifelong relationship.

The poems feel archetypal. The voice feels conversational–and yet the images and the conversation they frame are so dense. We’re hearing about love and lovers, about death, and some celebration of those who die young (hard for me, but these aren’t my poems).

And the angels! My brain kept cross-wiring to Herakles in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Red > Doc and at times Dante’s Inferno.

“First Elegy” begins

“What angel, if I called out, would hear me?”

and later:

“But who, then, can help us? Not angels, not men.
And the animals, instinctively, have already noticed
that we aren’t really at home in our talked-about world.”

Then “Second Elegy” begins

“Every angel terrifies. Still, though I know
how almost-deadly you are, you birds of the soul,
I call out to you.”

“Tenth Elegy” is when I start to think about Dante, as the young man climbs the mountain.

This week, I have no link for you, because what I could find online was not from the same translation. Instead, I’ll offer question: Have you read the Duino Elegies–and if you have, which translation?