The Sunday Feature
Radio 3


Among the Ranks of Angels
Rainer Maria Rilke

Poetry read by Tom Durham

Contributions from Philip Pulman,
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams
Poets Jo Shapcott, Don Paterson, and Sue Hubbard
and the Professor of German Karen Leeder

Produced by Julian May

Since Stephen Spender in the 1930s our finest poets have made versions of Rilke’s poems. Martyn Crucefix, who has translated the ‘Duino Elegies,’ explores their attraction.

Rilke never visited Britain and disliked the English language. He thought far more of Dante than Shakespeare. But his best known work, the ‘Duino Elegies’, completed in the same year as The Wasteland, has had the greatest impact on English readers and writers of any modern European poem. Martyn Crucefix’s translation was published in 2006, as was Don Paterson’s ‘Orpheus: A Version of Rilke‘, hailed as Paterson’s best book of poetry. Seamus Heaney has translated his sonnets and Jo Shapcott the poems he wrote in French towards the end of his life. She says “Rilke’s poems fascinate because they demand you pour yourself into them. The act of reading them is more like writing…or prayer.”
Rilke fascinates readers, too. You might be hard-pressed to find Thomas Mann in a bookshop these days, but if there is a poetry section Rilke will be there.

Crucefix unpacks Rilke, revealing what makes him so engaging: his idea that a poem is an object in itself, that the poet’s role is to sing, to praise. But Rilke is a poet without God. Existence is the wonder, not death the disaster. The poets explore Rilke’s ideas of the role of the imagination and inspiration, and how he renders the subtlest of experiences in language of great beauty.

Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011

Images maybe subject to copyright


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