Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus


Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus

A New Translation in Sonnet Form
By Nancy Billias

This recent translation of Sonnets to Orpheus is absolutely dazzling; having read many previous translations of this masterwork, I can say that Ms. Billias’ approach to this material summons these poems to life on the page in a way that I had not previously experienced.
Mark Armen, Depth Psychologist, San Francisco

This volume adds something new to the canon of Rilke in English: a readable, modern creative rendering of the Sonnets to Orpheus in sonnet form. To attempt such a thing… is a difficult task (to say the least) that the author, by really listening to the poems, performs here without ever tipping into triteness or over-embellished poetics. The images dazzle because they are allowed to just “be” in the poem. Each poem presents another creative solution to the problem of translating Rilke while being as true as possible to the sound, meaning, and spirit of the poems.
Jonathan Gourlay, author of Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years in Micronesia; Editor, The Bygone Bureau.

For ten years, Rilke struggled to create the Duino Elegies: a cycle of ten unrhymed, free-form poems. By contrast, the fifty-five Orphic sonnets presented here were composed in just three weeks, in and as the wake of the final elegy. In this, the first sonnet-form translation to appear in print since 1960, the translator has sought to retain the musicality of the poems, to hew as closely as possible to the rigid and constricting rhythm and rhyme schemes through which Rilke proclaims the ‘task of the poet’: to listen to being in a most unique way, and to undertake the mystical work of inhabiting and praising the wonder of being as it saturates and transcends the here and now.

The eternal questions of time, death, God and meaning are answered as they always must be: by an appeal to the ideals of beauty and love.

Nancy Billias is Professor of Philosophy Emerita from the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut. Her doctoral dissertation, on Heidegger’s philosophy of translation and language, asked: What might poetry, and translation, reveal about our being in the world?
After undertaking careers in social work, psychotherapy, and academia, she has retired to the United Kingdom, where she lives and works as a member of Pilsdon at Malling, an intentional Christian community which offers refuge to people working through depression, alcoholism, addiction, divorce or bereavement.

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