Reading Rilke: Reflections on the Problems of Translation
William H. Gass
Alfred A. Knopf, $25 (cloth)
Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Edward Snow
North Point Press/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20 (cloth)
The story goes like this: It is December, 1911. Rilke, the delicate, gloomy, visionary poet whom the German aristocracy tries in vain to comfort with invitations to their country estates (“If God has any consideration for me,” he complains in a letter, “he should let me find a few rooms in the country where I can rave the way I like”), arrives by chauffeured car at Castle Duino, a stony fortress perched on a bluff above the Adriatic, not far from Trieste. He has come to visit his indulgent friend and patron, Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe, who owns the castle, and together they play at translating Dante’s Vita Nuova (a fitting project for Duino, since Dante supposedly wrote parts of the Divine Comedy there). After the Princess leaves, Rilke stays on alone and, with the staff to care for his every need, is left to concentrate on his own work.