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.