Book Review — The Rilke of Ruth Speirs: New Poems, Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus, & Others

The Rilke of Ruth Speirs by Ruth Speirs

The Rilke of Ruth Speirs: New Poems, Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus, & Others by Rainer Maria Rilke and translated by Ruth Speirs is the complete collection of Speirs translations of Rilke’s poetry. Rainer Maria Rilke is universally recognized as among the most important twentieth-century German-language poets. Ruth Speirs was a Latvian exile who joined the British literary community in Cairo during World War II. This is the first time all of Speirs’ translations are presented in one volume.

I am starting to believe that the only thing more difficult than writing great poetry is taking the poet’s work and translating it to another language and still maintain the poet’s thoughts. To read poetry in English and forget that you are reading a translation is literary transcendence. The poems presented in this collection will have the reader believing that English was the original language.

Rilke’s poems capture moments in time from a time long past. The detail of her descriptions such as in “The Merry-Go-Round” put the reader in the Jardin du Luxembourg. It is not too far fetched to think you hear the carousel’s music playing in your head. The poems maintain rhythm and imagery that throughout the collection.

Speirs’ translation of Rilke’s’ work is nothing short of superb. This collection is for readers who enjoy poetry and its complexity. I would not recommend this collection to a casual poetry reader. At first look, it reminded me poetry in college English Literature. As a non-English major it seemed daunting at first and took some time to build up to. The poetry here is excellent and at times a bit complex in a very good way. Here is a poetry’s lovers collection.


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