The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God

The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God

The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God

The Book of Hours: Prayers to a Lowly God


This is the first complete translation of Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours in more than forty years. It provides English-speaking readers with access to a critical work in the development of the most significant figure in twentieth-century German poetry. A tripartite work comprising "The Book of the Monkish Life," "The Book of Pilgrimage," and "The Book of Poverty and Death," The Book of Hours is published here in a bilingual format, with the original German and the English translation on facing pages. Conveying an almost mystical conception of the relationship among God, man, and nature, The Book of Hours (Das Stunden-Buch, first published in 1905) is a series of intimate prayers written as if by a Russian monk turned painter-writings that bring to bear the profound influence of Rilke's journeys to Russia and Italy at the turn of the century. Annemarie S. Kidder's delicately nuanced translation preserves Rilke's uncomplicated and melodic flow, his rhythm, and, where possible, his rhyme while remaining true to content. Kidder's introduction and notes offer historical and interpretive background information, largely from Rilke's own diaries and correspondence, chronicling the influence of various geographical settings on the writing of The Book of Hours and illustrating Rilke's own spiritual quest. Also included are translated excerpts of an earlier manuscript of The Book of Hours, along with interpretations of the poetry.


Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) always insisted that The Book of Hours should not be thought of as a series of separate poems but as one long poem. That was the way he wrote it, and he emphasized the importance of the book's being published with a uniform typographical appearance. There were to be no emphatic breaks, except for those between the three books. This introduction follows this principle and instead of commenting on particular passages or poems examines each book and its prominent themes as a whole. For additional information, the reader is referred to the notes at the end of the book and a number of secondary works. All translations of poems, diary entries, and letter excerpts are mine.

“THE book of the monkish LIFE”

The Book of Hours was first published at Christmas of 1905. It consists of three parts of which the first part, “The Book of the Monkish Life,” was written in its first draft between September 20 and October 14, 1899. the poems represent the conversations of a Russian monk-painter with God, and Rilke had originally called it The Prayers. He chose the final title based on the French medieval tradition of livres d'heures, which were devotional prayer books for lay use. It is filled with impressions from Italy and Russia.

From April 15 until the end of June 1898, Rilke had stayed in Florence, where he made the acquaintance of the Italian masters of painting and sculpture, notably of the Renaissance. His “Florentine Diary,” contained in Tagebücher aus der Frühzeit, edited by his daughter Ruth and her husband and published in 1942 by Insel Verlag, is filled with impressions of his visits to churches, museums, palazzi, and cemeteries. Many of the motifs found in “The . . .

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