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.

Posted in Rilke.