In my mid-twenties, I picked up a hardcover poetry book from a sale table in Media Play. Anyone remember that store? Looking back now, it’s a minor miracle, that find, their book selections were so abysmal. The book: Uncollected Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow (North Point Press, 1996). I had read Letters to a Young Poet, The Duino Elegies, Sonnets to Orpheus — but this is the collection, full of fragments, unfinished pieces, as well as simply previously unpublished poems, that influenced me the most, perhaps because, being previously uncollected, I was able to approach them as the unknowns they were, without any of the received ideas that accompany so many of his famous works: “You must change your life!”
And now, I am thrilled to discover The Poetry of Rilke, also translated by Edward Snow, my favorite Rilke translator, is being published in October. Including more than 250 poems, commentary by Snow, and an introduction by Adam Zagajewski — I must have this book. But it also runs a steep $50. I’m going to have to bide my time amd save my pennies.
I can’t find this translation of this poem, my favorite from Uncollected Poems, on the internet, so I’m typing it up for you below. You can find other translations, but this is the best, I think. It is untitled:
You the beloved
lost in advance, you the never-arrived,
I don’t know what songs you like most.
No longer, when the future crests toward the present,
do I try to discern you. All the great
images in me – the landscape experienced far off,
cities and towers and bridges and un-
suspected turns in the path
and the forcefulness of those lands
once intertwined with gods:
all mount up in me to signify
you, who forever eludes.
Ah, you are the gardens!
With such hope I
watched them! An open window
in the country house –, and you almost
stepped out pensively to meet me. I found streets,—
you had just walked down them,
and sometimes in the merchants’ shops the mirrors
were still reeling from you and gave back with a start
my too-sudden image.—Who knows if the same
bird did not ring through both of us
yesterday, alone, at evening?
-Paris, winter 1913-14