The Duineser Elegien by Rainer Maria Rilke are considered among the greatest poetic achievements in any language of the Twentieth Century. Although prose works, the Elegien are written in a rarified poetic language which is not simple even for native Germans. For the intermediate or advanced readers of German it is almost insurmountable. This webpage provides a twofold solution for making the Elegien more accessible to English language readers:
My main purpose is not to explain or interpret the Elegien themselves, but often the translation of an especially elusive passage involves forming an interpretation. The final sections of the Elegien, in which Rilke summarizes the main themes, tend to be most problematic.
The Duineser Elegien were published in 1923 by the Insel Verlag in two formats. There was a luxury edition ("Vorzugsausgabe") in an edition of 300 copies, which is considered the first edition, since it was published shortly before the trade edition of 10,000 copies. The two editions are virtually identical in content, so I will be using the trade edition. There is a later edition, edited by Professor Ernst Zinn, which differs significantly from the first editions in regard to the number of italicized words and other corrections and additions. The inexpensive Reclam book by Wolfram Groddeck points out these editorial deviations to which I will refer in the commentaries.
The photographs accompanying the Elegien, the Introduction and the Technical Terms are with the following exceptions my own:
Within the footnote there will be a sometimes shortened version of the grammatical and rhetorical terminology referenced within the individual footnote. The complete versions of the definitions can be found in the separate listing Terms. These definitions and my commentary are culled from many sources including the following: Microsoft Bookshelf; Princeton Dictionary of Poetry,Princeton University Press; Der Sprach-Brockhaus, Eberhard Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, 1958; Duden: Hauptschwierigkeiten der deutschen Sprache, Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim, 1965; Roget's International Thesaurus, Seventh Edition, Collins Reference, 2010; American Heritage Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1985; Rilke Werke, Kommentierte Ausgabe in vier Bänden, Band 2, Gedichte 1910 bis 1926, Insel Verlag, 1996; Rilkes Duineser Elegien, Band 1, Herausgegeben von Ulrich Füllhorn & Manfred Engel, suhrkamp taschenbuch materialien, 2009; Rainer Maria Rilke: Duineser Elegien, Die Sonette an Orpheus, Nach den Erstdrucken von 1923 kritisch herausgegeben von Wolfram Groddeck, Philip Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 1997; Rainer Maria Rilke: Die Duineser Elegien, Wiedergabe der Handschrift des Dichters aus dem Besitz der Fürstin Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe mit einem Begleitword von Ernst Zinn, Niehans & Rokitansky Verlag Zürich, 1948.
To arrive at my translation, the following translations were consulted: Duineser Elegien=Elegies from the Castle of Duino translated by Victoria & Edward Sackville-West, 1931, reprint 2013 in India by Isha Books; Les Élégies de Duino translated by J.F. Angelloz, Paul Hartmann Éditeur, 1936; Duino Elegies translated by J.B. Leishman & Stephen Spender, W.W. Norton & Company, 1939; Duinesian Elegies translated by Elaine B. Boney, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1975; Duino Elegies & The Sonnets to Orpheus translated by Stephen Mitchell, Vintage Books, 1982; Duino Elegies translated by David Oswald, Daimon Verlag, 1992; Duino Elegies translated by Edward Snow, North Point Press, 2000; Reading Rilke translated by William H. Gass, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000 and Being Here is Glorious translated by James D. Reid, Northwestern University Press, 2015.
Choosing from the following menu will take you to the Elegien and the Terms and the TOP of this introduction. To return to the introduction click "Introduction" at the end of the Elegien or the Technical Terms.