Rika Lesser

Rilke: Between Roots

Looking up from the book, from the close, countable lines,
into the fulfilled night outside:
O how like stars the packed feelings scatter,
as if a bunch of wild
flowers were untied:

Youth of lightness, and inclining sway of the heavy,
and the reluctant bend of the tender—.
Everywhere desire to restore and nowhere Demand;
surfeit of world, and earth enough.


—Rainer Maria Rilke, translation © Rika Lesser

The bas-relief behind "Orpheus.Eurydice.Hermes"
Selection of poems from 1907-1926, a revised edition of Holding Out Poems rendered from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke by Rika Lesser, with A Note by Richard Howard, which originally came out from Abattoir Editions in February 1976, having been printed by hand in an edition of two hundred and twenty-five copies during the spring and summer of the centennial of Rilke's birth at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In the fine-press edition, the type face is Bembo with Romulus Open initials, the paper Grand Moghul hand made in India. The hand of the printer belonged to Harry Duncan. The book was beautiful and out of print by the end of the year.

Rilke: Between Roots, a selection in Princeton University Press's Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation, like so many wonderful books in that series, also is out of print.

Lesser accomplished her versions of Rilke's poems and selected carefully before Rilke translation became an American industry. Holding Out - that part of Lesser's Scholar of the House thesis at Yale (1974), and her first published book - alludes to Rilke's admonition to the young suicide Wolf Graf von Kalckreuth, included in the volume . . . and to her proffering the book to those unable to read the poems in German.

Sonnets to Orpheus

II, 29


Still friend of the many distances, feel
how your breath, your breathing still enlarges Space.
Among the beams of the dark bell towers,
let yourself sound, resound. What feeds on you,
what consumes and wastes you, in feeding

becomes a Strength beyond that nourishment.
Give yourself to Transformation: Know its house.
Even if you yourself are consumed.
What experience made you suffer most?
If drinking is bitter to you, become the wine.

In this immeasurable night, this Night of
Excess, be that magic power at the crossroads
of your Senses. Be Sense, the significance
of their strange, their special meeting.

And if the Earthly has forgotten you,
say to the still and silent earth: I flow.
To the hasty water say:
                                 I am.


Rilke’s note: To a friend of Wera’s

—Rainer Maria Rilke, translation © Rika Lesser

Poetry
The Sheep Meadow Press, 2008            
University of South Carolina Press, 1997   
University of North Texas Press, 1995    
Braziller Series of Poetry, 1983; Sheep Meadow Press, 2010
Poetry in Translation
Yale University Press, 2009 Margellos World Republic of Letters
Princeton University Press, 1993     Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation     
Barnes & Noble Classics, 2007     
by Gunnar Ekelöf University of Massachusetts Press, 1980 (out of print)
Princeton University Press, 1986    Lockert Library of Poetry in Translation           (out of print)
Retold with Pictures
First by the Grimms, then by Lesser & Paul O. Zelinksy
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