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Whereas Rilke’s music just ‘builds’ ina resonant unbroken line, hereitismadetodotwothings(quarryandbuild), with ahiatus betweenthem, whichseems toprevent thelast line fromdoingwhatitsays. Sometimesitistheotherwayround, with asimplification of acomplex thought,strikingly so in the lastpoem, asRilke’sdifficultinjunction‘if youfinddrinking bitter, become wine’ is reduced by being rendered ‘if the water’ssour, turnitinto wine’, whichfeelslikean evasion. But thereismoreofwhatisessentialtoRilkeintheseversionsthan inany other: they openthe poems out into a sharp-edged, attentive, preciselytunedEnglish, whichis a transmutation, not a betrayal, of the softer, more obscure music of the originals. MartynCrucefix’s newversions of theElegies donot stand out inthesamewaybut theyofferamostlyaccuratereading. WithaparallelGermantext, theyasklesstobetakenontheir ownterms. Insteadofageneralcommentaryonhistranslation, Crucefixsupplies a paraphrasingcommentaryoneachpoem. Perhaps the main difficulty with translating the Elegies is accommodatingthe sustainedgrandness of their manner, especially nowadays, whenthe possibility of equivalence to it, as exploitedinLeishmanandStephenSpender’s famous version, seems tohave become unavailable. Crucefixtries to toneit down,then letmomentsofitslip through,whichseems asensiblecourse. It sometimes works, as at thebeginningof theSixth:

Figtree, howlonghasitbeenimportanttome thewayyoualmostwhollyskipblossoming andpresspuremystery–quiteunheralded– intoearly-settingfruit.

More oftenthough, he cannot avoidsoundingirredeemably peculiar, as whenthe angels are saidtobe ‘occupiedinthe whirling / reinvigoration of themselves’ (Second Elegy) or when(intheNinth) theTunohne Bild (‘actionwithoutform’)

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