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Review: Pure Contradiction: Selected Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke

Stella Stocker, Weyfarers 112, August 2012

New translations of Rainer Maria Rilke must always be welcome. In Pure Contradiction translator, Ian Crockatt selects poem according to similar themes or types of expression. The collection is in dual text. As I do not know German, I could only respond to the translation. The power of this poetry is to a great extent in its new angles, but, more important routes to new depths. In Leda

Then the passion-driven God transforms
himself. He hides in the swan, but finds
his heart overawed by its beauty; nor does he understand
the marvel of being a swan as he storms

towards his desire...

The poem expresses not only relentless but a moving ambiguity. Leda is mesmerised by him,

Entranced, she sees
within the snowy form the God's advance... She moans 'no' once
then a blow from his white-quilled wing topples

Neither of them have any concept of the series of events that will follow on this rape and one of numerous transformations and magical conceptions. Nature poems have a broad expansiveness;

But winter! Oh this secretive
turning-inward of the earth. Where around the dead,
in the sap's pure relapse,
courage re-groups... Where the worn-out greens
of endless summers renew themselves as ideas
in the mirror of anticipation.
Where the colours of the flowers
forget our eyes' slow approval

This places the rhythm of the seasons into a cycle of renewal and forgetfulness, almost on a roller-coaster. The word 'relapse' and the metaphor of the flowers at the end give a sense of waves of human experience and the endless renewals and decay of nature behind them.