FT Letters

On November 26/27,2022 (Nostalgia for Vita and Harold’s cosmopolitanism) was a response to my letter in which I pointed out that Robin Lane Fox had strayed into the weeds of literature.

He asserted that Vita Sackville-West was the first to make an English translation of Rilke’s Duineser Elegien. She was, but he omitted to add that it was poor translation. Later it was offered to Hogarth press, who only printed handful of copies – only in deference to Vita’s friend and lover Virginia Wolf.

Pushkin Press the publisher of Vita’s translation fielded Lesley Chamberlin to write the introduction to the new edition. However, she only muddies the water of English Rilke studies. 

She describes Rilke as the greatest poet in German. This is the equivalent of toppling King Goethe and Prince Schiller from their pedestals. Then she takes a swipe at The Cambridge Companion to Rilke (Editors K.Leeder and R.Villain) by characterising him as being a not-quite-a-modernist poet.

This is contrary to their description of Rilke being ‘one of leading poets of European modernism comparable in importance and influence with American-born T.S. Eliot and the French poet Paul Valéry.’

Here’s an example of Rilke’s first line of the Duino Elegies which comes across as a roar of a lion (translated by J.B.Leishman and S.Spender): ‘Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?‘ Then the croak of a frog by the Sackville-Wests: ‘Who would give ear, among the angelic host, Were I to cry aloud.

Vita Sackville-West and Rilke

The first translation of Duineser Elegien into English was done by Vita Sackville West (Cranach Press, 1931). She had begun the translation with the assistance of Margaret Voigt, an American living in Berlin, with whom she had started a passionate love affair early in the spring of 1928. ‘Being in love always helped Vita to write’, subsequently in a relationship lasting five months the two ‘established their fantasy love-world at Long Barn (in which Margaret played the ‘peasant’ to Vita’s aristocrat, and Vita was “David” to Margaret’.

The translation was completed in collaboration with Edward Sackville-West, fifth Baron Sackville (1901-1965). It was luxury edition printed in red and black with text in English and German, 20 woodcut initials heightened with gold designed and cut by Eric Gill. Later Vita approached approached Hogarth Press which was run by Virginia Wolf and her husband Leonard. However, it was poor translation and only a handful were printed in deference to Virginia, her friend and lover. H.J. Leishman and Stephen Spender delivered a good translation and it was published in 1939. The book ran over several editions until the 1970s.

FT – Green Fingers

Rilke’s love of roses was commented on in a letter in the Financial Times last week (3rd September), linked to an article by Robin Lane Fox.

Rilke was able to realise his wish for a rose garden whilst at Muzot in the Valais, more about his time there is featured in the bookRILKE: A Bio Novel. (See here for stockists)

Gstaad Insider’s Guide
Presentation of the 2nd Edition 

The author Farrol Kahn made a presentation of the new edition of the Gstaad Insider’s guide on Wednesday 27th April at the Grande Salle de Rougemont.

An Article in «Journal du Pays-D’Enhaut », gives an overview of his book, the people and places featured and background on Farrol’s various other works.

Farrol Kahn and Sonia Wolf
Sophie Labarraque with craft stand
Cheese and wine party

On Wednesday evening last week, Marianne Moratti attended the book launch of The Insider’s Guide Gstaad/Pays-d’Enhaut by Farrol Kahn.

It was a cheese and wine party which was held in the Grand Salle Rougemont. A lot of interesting people were there waiting for the presentation, curious and excited. Among the locals were Anne Rosat, Michèle Philipp, Marie-Françoise Rochat, Myriam Degallier, Cindy Morier, Dr Ilias Skaventzos and his wife Sonja Wolf, Mr and Mrs Aamodt, Mr and Mrs Raynaud and Marina Brachet. While from Gstaad there were Caroline Zervudacis, Nitzia Embiricos, Ruedi Hählen, Mr and Mrs Kübli, Tom Galler, Marc Galler, Mr and Mrs Mösching and Sussy Power.

The book which is the 7th of the cultural guides to Switzerland written by Farrol Kahn is well presented with over 100 colour photos. 

Guests had the opportunity to taste the wide range of cheese from the Gstaad Molkerei selected by Rene Ryser and wines from the Cully vineyard of Cave de Moratel presented by Patricia Longet. Sophie Labarraque also had a stand with her art and artisanal objects.

Olivia Plancherel who was the winner of the Photographic competition with a view of the Pays-d’Enhaut from the La Lecherette could not attend. Marianne Moratti received a bouquet as she came second in the photo contest. Her photo of the Ibex female was judged to be exquisite.

Rilke comes Alive

Walliser Bote 29 Juli 2021 : “Ich Habe Rilke erweckt”

Farrol Kahn hat in Eischoll einen Biografischen Roman über den wohl wichtigsten Dichter für das Wallis geschrieben. Eine Arbeit, de zehn Jahre dauerte.

Translation of article below.

Interview:Sarah-Maria Heldner – I made Rilke alive”

Farrol Kahn has written a bio novel about the probably most important poet for the Valais. A task that took 10 years to complete. The author of the book “Rilke” about the passion for the poet, his work and Switzerland.

Why did you write a book about Rilke’s life?

I wanted to write a book, a novel about a poet. I first thought of Yeats, the Irish poet, but there has already been a lot written about him. Another option was a Latvian poet called Rainis but it was difficult to find poems because they were mostly in Russian. I initially wanted to do something about this poet because my father was from that country.

And then, by chance, I picked up a book of Rilke’s poetry by Mitchell, when I was commuting from London to Sussex. I was fascinated by the poems. I’ve read snippets of his Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus when I was on the train and later I began reading about his life. There were a lot of books in English about him but they were mainly academic works about his poetry. No one has written about the man who had a life, who had many loves and who struggled to find himself. I wanted to show him as a human being, not just a guru or a philosopher. All his works can be traced to a basis.

What is that basis?

The basis of his work was that in 1900 he married and then had a child. After one year he turned to his wife and said that he was a bad husband, a bad father but wanted to be a good poet. He left his family and travelled a lot: Egypt, Spain, Berlin, France and many more. He never put down roots, he was always hovering above a city or a country.

What fascinated you about his life?

He was one of these mysterious poets who wrote a lot of letters: 17,000. Another interesting aspect is the contrast between him and his friend Paul Valéry. The french poet wrote according to a system whereas Rilke was very emotional. In order to write, Rilke always tried to find a “winter nest”, a place where he was on his own. Only a housekeeper would be in

the same house and put the food in front of Rilke’s room. He just wanted to write poetry on his own over the three months of winter.

How did you get all the information for the book?

I’ve read a lot of his letters, took notes and did research in libraries like Oxford and Geneva. Those libraries have his genuine letters, the letter he wrote to his mistress and muse Baladine Klossowska. Their story is very fascinating.

What is their story?

The creative years of Rilke in Switzerland were from 1920 to 1926. The first thing he had to do was to find a “winter nest”. He first tried to find something in Zurich like the Schloss Berg am Irchel but it did not work out. When he met Baladine in Geneva they went on a trip to the Valais and when they were by the church above Raron, they looked at the wonderful landscape. That awakened his inspiration for writing poetry.

Rilke had a great love affair with her but then got leukemia. He did not want to see Baladine while his body was full of black spots, which was very hard for him. This grand passion that can be seen in the incredible love letters is so inspiring.

During your research, have you found something surprising?

Yes, I did. I wondered why a lot of the books on him were academic and none showed who he was. The reason behind that is, that his letters have been censored by his wife. Anything that had something to do with his emotions, his body or his love affairs was affected. That’s why many people didn’t really know much about him.

How did you deal with the censored parts?

His confessions took 50 years to be published. It was hard work, I had to go to the libraries, to sit down and make notes. I had a translator that translated the German or French texts into English.

How much fiction is in your bio novel of Rilke?

The only sort of fiction is where I animate him. Many things I know from the love letter he wrote to Baladine Klossowska. These elements I used in conversation. I really made Rilke alive which is much appreciated.

Had you already had connections to Switzerland before you started writing your novel about Rilke?

Not a strong connection. I have seen pictures of the landscape and one falls in love with it.

You’ve written the book in Eischoll. How did you get Eischoll as a destination to write your book?

My German Rilke friends had apartments in Eischoll and invited me to stay there while writing the book. They said that the view was wonderful and that I could see the church in Raron where Rilke is buried. That was true. I could always look down and get inspiration.

Was Rilke inspiration enough during  the whole process or did you have writing blocks?

Rilke opened a whole new world, an inner world which he was part of.  Wherever I go there is a reminder of Rilke in some shape or form. For Example, when I went to Paris I would go to the Luxembourg Gardens where he had had many walks.

You are currently writing your new book “Road Trip with Rilke”. Do you proceed in the same way as for the previous book?

No. I would look at my book, the biographical novel and find areas that are important in the road trip. For example Schloss Berg am Irchel. It still exists today, even though it is a horse breeding centre. Or the Victoria Hotel where he is in the register. All those places will be in the road trip. Readers can go around Switzerland and stay in five star hotels, where a little table of memories will remind of Rilke. In the book you will find the letters that he has written at those places.

So it is a mix of a travel guide and memories of Rilke?

Exactly. You have the opportunity of entering his personal world by discovering new places and reading his letters.

Duino Castle

When Rilke stayed at the Duino Castle in 1911-1912, he heard voice above the roar of the wind. “‘Who, if I cried out, would hear me from the ranks of the angels?” That was the inspiration for his masterpiece, the Duino Elegies.

Romanus Church in Raron

The reason why Rilke’s grave is at Romanus Church in Raron is that he did not want to be buried in the same cemetery as Isabelle de Chevron, the former inhabitant of Muzot, a ghost who haunted the path between Muzot and Miège. 

Testimony

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

I would like to put in a word for Farrol Kahn’s superb novel, [working title] THE SWISS LOVERS, about the Swiss period of Rilke’s life. It is a large book that lends the subject a truly Proustian perspective It does so particularly through its language, a remarkable feat of using the English language to recreate the work of a German poet–as well as the entire world of the first quarter of the 20th century-. It stirs and sustains the reader ‘s involvement throughout. In fact, I believe that it may become one of the more significant works in our time. I’ve had (and am having) my own dance with Rilke, but this is not a disguised biography but the presentation in a complex modern novel of a life and an epoch in Western history before and immediately after World War I: the breakup and (temporary) reconstitution of our world. The animation of Rilke, changing with and against this social perspective is carried out brilliantly.

I’m aware of the fact that this sounds like so much hyperbole but it is impersonal. I don’t know this author very well but I’ve come to know him particularly through reading this work which is skilfully reconstructed as a life. It begins at the point when Rilke met the woman who, above all his many love relationships, was his most incisive inspiration during the final years of his life. From this vantage point Farrol Kahn radiates outward-back to Rilke’s origins and forward to his destiny and early death.

I believe that both the experimental approach of this novel and its panoramic view of life in the early twentieth century may attract a following of Rilke enthusiasts and beyond.

Ralph Freedman

Author of Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke

International Coverage

I’ve had a testimonial from an enthusiast in San Francisco, USA and a letter selected for publication in the FT in London, the Walliser Bote asked for an interview which they published on 29th July. Click here or on the image to read the full text in English.

“Just now I finished your novel. Congratulations on your achievement!  Your devotion and research shine through. A majestic volume on my Rilke shelves.”

Bruce Mueller, San Francisco

I’m also pleased to say that the antidote to the indolence referred to in the letter is working on the related book mentioned in the article, Road Trip with Rilke.