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BOOK REVIEW: A YEAR WITH RILKE: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke: Translated & Edited by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


One of the most beloved poets of the twentieth century, Rainer Maria Rilke is widely celebrated for his depth of insight and timeless relevance. 

He has influenced generations of writers with his classic Letters to a Young Poet, and his reflections on the divine and our place in the world are disarmingly profound. 

A Year with Rilke provides the first ever reading from Rilke for every day of the year, including selections from his luminous poetry, his piercing prose, and his intimate letters and journals.

Rilke is a trusted guide amid the bustle of our daily experience, reflecting on such themes as impermanence, the beauty of creation, the voice of God, and the importance of solitude. 

With new translations from the editors, whose acclaimed translation of Rilke's The Book of Hours won an ardent readership, this collection reveals the depth and breadth of Rilke's acclaimed work.


I first encountered Rainer Maria Rilke when a friend gave me a copy of LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET when I was in my early twenties.

It spoke to me very powerfully, and I went on to read many of Rilke’s poems and letters. 

I re-discovered Rilke again when I was writing my latest novel THE BEAST’S GARDEN, which is a retelling of Beauty & the Beast set in Nazi Germany.

I was drawn to read his work again because I remembered that Rilke was obsessed with roses, (a potent motif in the fairy tale) and wrote many poems about them. 

As part of my journey of rediscovery, I bought A YEAR WITH RILKE. It brings together a collection of his writings – excerpts from poetry (both published and unpublished), letters, and diaries – each chosen to match a certain day of the year. 

The idea is to read one page a day, every day, for the full year.  I have kept the book next to my bed to read, and did so most evenings. Occasionally I had to read two or three – or even ten - pages to catch up. It didn’t matter. 

The excerpts are each so small and so easily read, and sometimes I would read the same poem over and over again, trying to let it soak into my soul. Occasionally the reading for the day was so uncannily prescient, so necessary to what I needed to read just then, it seemed fore-ordained. 

It’s a beautiful way to read his work – and a perfect way to be introduced to him. 

The only complaint I have to make is that it is designed for an audience in the northern hemisphere and so some of the seasonal pieces (like the poem for March 21, which was ‘Spring!’) are out-of-whack for an Australian reader. But it's a minor complaint – and I simply went back and read them again at the tight time. 


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