BOOK REVIEW: Poems to Night by Rainer Maria Rilke [Trans. Will Stone]

Poems to NightPoems to Night by Rainer Maria Rilke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: March 2, 2021

This is a new English translation of Rilke’s 1916 collection of poems themed around the night. It includes the twenty-two poems of the “Poems to Night” collection, as well as seven draft poems from the same collection and another fifteen poems and fragments on the theme of night. Most of the poems were written during the same period as “Duino Elegies,” which is one of Rilke’s most beloved collections.

The period in which the collection was being composed was a tragic one for Rilke. He was trapped by the war in Germany (while he was born in Prague, he’d been living in France at the time) and all his possessions [in France] were disposed of by his landlord. He had a bit of military service, and — though it was a desk job — he wasn’t cut out for it. And he had an intense affair with a French artist.

The poems mix imagery with a heavy dose of strategic ambiguity — leaving the possibility for the poems to be interpreted in various ways. One might suspect a collection themed around the nighttime and written by a German in the midst of life crises would be deadly morose, but I felt that Rilke balanced the more somber elements with beauty and vibrancy. The poems felt more like a reach for catharsis than a wallowing in suffering (a fault of many poets, in my opinion.)

I found this collection to be evocative and mind-expanding. I’d highly recommend it for readers of poetry.

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