Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Life of the Virgin Mary

The Life of the Virgin Mary by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by CF MacIntyre, 31 pages in German Das Marien-Leben, this is a short collection of thirteen poems, each relating to an event in the life of the Virgin Mary, some from the Gospels, others from other sources such as the Proto-Evangelium of James.  Initially, Rilke was inspired by a series of sketches by Jugendstil artist Heinrich Vogeler, and later a plan developed to produce an illustrated volume of poetry on the subject, but the author eventually grew dissatisfied with the artist.  In the end, the poems were published without the artwork, and the art is not included here, either (the illustration to the right notwithstanding).  Essentially, Rilke supplies brief poetic descripions of events, providing his own commentary and perspective, and fully justifying Edmund Burke's elevation of poetry over painting as descriptive art.  Rilke gives the reader access to interior worlds that can scarcely be hinted at in visual representation.
MacIntyre translated a selection of Verlaine's works that I did not care for, and I wondered then if the translator might be part of the problem.  I am relieved to report, on the strength of this work, that he was not.  Like his Verlaine collection, this has the translation and original on facing pages, with excellent notes.  Das Marien-Leben has also been memorably set to music by Paul Hindemith.

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