“I believe in everything that has not yet been said”
A Featured Review of
Prayers of a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke.
Translated and with an introduction by Mark S. Burrows
Hardback: Paraclete Press, 2012.
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Review by Caitlin Michelle Desjardins
The hour bows down and stirs me
With a clear and ringing stroke;
My senses tremble. I feel that I can—
And I seize the forming day.
Between September 20 and October 14, 1899, Rainer Maria Rilke feverishly composed a cycle of prayers, in the form of poems written by an anonymous Russian Orthodox monk, that we now know as the first part of his famous Book of Hours. Yet the Book of Hours as we have it now, with Rilke’s own revisions, doesn’t include Rilke’s own original annotations that give the date of composition and short epigraphs that suggest something of the poems’ originations. These epigraphs, written from the perspective of the Monk, often suggest insights and signify the thrust of the poem itself. Rilke’s poetry is, in many ways, an exercise in openness and doesn’t always lend any clear “meaning” so much as give a sense of divinity, humanity and the wideness of life. These epigraphs, restored in this new edition of Rilke’s prayers (originally titles simple “die Gebete” or “the Prayers), don’t undermine the expanse of Rilke’s poetry or offer any kind of didactic “meaning”, yet they do helpfully turn our head a bit, and offer new insights into the poems themselves and Rilke’s spirit and imagination as he write them.