Books 2010

Books 2009

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Friday, 27 February 2009


I first came across Rilke in a parallel translation by Stanley Mason ("A German Treasury" University of Salzburg 1995) and was immediately captivated. He was I believe a man of strong but idiosyncratic religious temper, and in his short poem Der Schwan he compares our daily life - the ungainliness, the struggle - with the waddling of a land-bound swan, which is transfigured and redeemed on entering its natural element, as we will be - he hoped - in heaven:

Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
jenes Grunds, auf dem wir taeglich stehn,
seinem aengstlichen Sich-Niederlassen -

in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
und die sich, wie gluecklich und vergangen,
unter ihm zurueckziehn, Flut um Flut;
waehrend er unendlich still und sicher
immer muendiger und koeniglicher
und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

And dying, this ungainly loss of grace
of feet that cannot find their daily ground,
is like his anxious settling on the face

Of waters that receive him gently and
beneath his presence happily disband
and from his passage smoothly slide away
while he, the growing master of the scene,
ever more sure and ever more serene,
ever more kingly glides upon his way.

[sorry I can't manage either umlauts or textlinks but it is worth following up]

I have the same edition of The Duino Elegies and I love them, and all of Rilke's writing. Thank you for featuring these. It was a lovely thing to come across first thing in my day.

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  • Nothing is of greater consolation to the author of a novel than the disovery of readings he had not conceived but which are then prompted by his readers. (Umberto Eco, Reflections on The Name of the Rose)
  • ... relatively few persons in London ... can afford the luxury of one or more servants. No fewer than 3,700,000 have no servants at all, and of the half million that have servants 227,000 have only one. (The Times, 6 June 1895)
  • Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations. There is a French widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects. (Tyrolean inn brochure, according to Gerard Hoffnung)
  • (A doctor is at an elderly relative's deathbed) "The old sawbones, eh?" he bellowed ... "Just in the nick, perhaps. Haul the old girl back by the short hairs, if you ask me. Devilish smart at his work ... Always take a fence with more confidence when I know he's out with us."
  • Too often, when a man of Monty Godkin's mental powers is plunged in thought, nothing happens at all. The machinery just whirs for a while, and that is the end of it. (P G Wodehouse, Heavy Weather)
  • ...the breed that take their pleasures as Saint Laurence took his grid (Kipling, The Five nations)

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