Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is universally recognized as among the most important twentieth-century German-language poets. Here, for the first time, are all the surviving translations of his poetry made by Ruth Speirs (1916-2000), a Latvian exile who joined the British literary community in Cairo during World War Two, becoming a close friend of Lawrence Durrell and Bernard Spencer. Though described as ‘excellent’ and ‘the best’ by J. M. Cohen on the basis of magazine and anthology appearances, copyright restrictions meant that during her lifetime, with the exception of a Cairo-published Selected Poems (1942), Speirs was never to see her work gathered between covers and in print.
This volume, edited by John Pilling and Peter Robinson, brings Speirs’ translations the belated recognition they deserve. Rhythmically alive and carefully faithful, they give a uniquely mid-century English accent to the poet’s extraordinary German, and continue to bear comparison with current efforts to render his tenderly taxing voice.