The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems

9780374530938Parrish recently reviewed The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems and wrote that “as an introduction to a poetry that can hold it’s head high on the world stage, this book will take some beating”.  I was inspired me to take a look at it and agree that its pretty good.  I’m not a great poetry lover, but sometimes a poem speaks to me and makes me wish I could commit to memory without all the hard work that would take me.

This book comes with various covers but I liked the one to the left, a photograph of the Berlin Wall (which also gives the book a slightly different title).

The book covers a very troubled century of course, and we start with the classicism of Rilke and move on through First and Second World Wars, to East/West partition and beyond.   Gunter Grass is included an many  others including Bertolt Brecht, Inge Muller (“After the Rubble” – “When I went to fetch water, ths house collapsed on top of me . . “).

Michael Hoffman has expertly translated many of the poems but others too seem to have done a fine job – I particularly liked Autumn Day by Rainer Maria Rilke which is translated by C F MacIntyre:

AUTUMN DAY

Lord it is time.  The summer was too long.
Lay now thy shadow over the sundials
and on the meadows let the winds blow strong.

Bid the last fruit to ripen on the vine:
allow them still two friendly southern days
to bring them to perfection and to force
the final sweetness in the heavy wine.

Who has no house now will not build him one.
Who is alone now will be long alone,
will waken, read and write long letters
and through the barren pathways up and down
restlessly wander when dead leaves are blown.

Rainer Maria Rilke

9 comments to The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems

  • Of course, that’s not for me as I’d rather read German literature in French but still, that poem by Rainer Maria Rilke is beautiful.
    I haven’t read his poems yet but his novels are marvelous and full of poetry. He had a gift for seeing things and life in a poetical light, always with simple words and without Greek/Roman references.

  • I keep meaning to explore Rainer Maria Rilke’s work because I see his work quoted a lot and always think it’s beautiful. But I’m not much of a poetry head, so the effort always seems beyond me. But thanks for this post, it may just be the encouragement I need.

  • What a lovely poem. Rilke is sublime. Is the word “they” in the second line correct? My linguistic instinct wants to put the word “thy” there instead.

  • Tom

    Emma – thanks for your comment. I know very little about Rilke’s writing so need a spot of education I think. I’ll’ have to see what’s available for free download

  • Tom

    HI Quirina – thanks for pointing out my typo. I’ll correct it now

  • Hi tom, thanks for the mention, if you fancy trying some more Rilke, check out Poemhunter.com they’ve a PDF file of some of his writing that you could introduce to your Kindle, or look up the penguin classic ” Letter to a young Poet” or there’s another version for on kindle for £1.47.
    PS Faber published an Italian 20c poems which I posted on.

  • Tom

    Hi Parrish – I’ve got the Letters To A Young Poet but didn’t find it all that inspiring. Thanks for the Poem Hunter idea – its a great site. I think the Italian poems must be worth looking at – I’ll do it now

  • Oh that is a beautiful but melancholy poem. I really don’t know a lot of German poetry – though am interested. However, I’d almost buy this one for the cover alone! I like to read poetry but it does take concentration and I often wonder whether I’ve quite got it. When I do though I wish I could commit more to memory.

  • Tom

    Sue, I am not a great reader of poetry myself, but sometimes a poem speaks to me and makes me want to memorise it. Thanks for visiting

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