Rilke's Book of Hours

Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, translators and editors: Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005)

Rilke - Book of Hours
I suppose the fact that I am writing this review in August of a book that I read last year is a sign that I am way behind in writing my book reviews. The truth is, however, that I haven’t really finished this book. I have read all of the words, cover to cover, but it isn’t the kind of book that one reads once and then lays aside. It is a kind of a companion for thinking about some of the really big thoughts of life. So, little by little, I have been reading and savoring and re-reading and living with these wonderful poems.

Even though I don’t read German, I find the layout of this book to be just right, with the German text on the left and the translation on the right. I always think of German as an expansive language with very long words and lots of run-on sentences, but in virtually every poem, it takes more words to express the meaning in English than in German. I have developed a deep respect for Barrows and Macy in their work as translators. On several occasions I have used the poems as devotions having a colleague read the German so that we can hear the rhythm of the original and compare it with the rhythm. In some cases, you get the sense that Barrows and Macy have almost produced entirely new poems. Except the seeds of the ideas are contained in Rilke’s originals every time.

This is a book that many will want to own. It is one to which I will return again and again.