Sonnets to Orpheus is Rainer Maria Rilke’s first and only sonnet sequence. It is an undisputed masterpiece by one of the greatest modern poets, translated here by a master of translation, David Young.
Rilke revived and transformed the traditional sonnet sequence in the Sonnets. Instead of centering on love for a particular person, as has many other sonneteers, he wrote an extended love poem to the world, celebrating such diverse things as mirrors, dogs, fruit, breathing, and childhood. Many of the sonnets are addressed to two recurrent figures: the god Orpheus (prototype of the poet) and a young dancer, whose death is treated elegiacally.
These ecstatic and meditative lyric poems are a kind of manual on how to approach the world – how to understand and love it. David Young’s is the first most sensitive of the translations of this work, superior to other translations in sound and sense. He captures Rilke’s simple, concrete, and colloquial language, writing with a precision close to the original.