There is no special resonance in revisiting words written exactly a century ago, but Rilke’s ability to transform the ordinary into something transcendent has not lost anything of its power in the intervening years since the Neue Gedichte – ‘New Poems’ – were written, in 1907 and 1908. Their title, plain though it is, reflects the change of direction that Rilke felt he was taking, towards a new subtlety and intimacy. I have set these three linked poems as a short unbroken cycle, the introspection of the first two opening into new directions in the third.
‘The Island’ was composed in 2007 as a gift for Claire Booth and the Nash Ensemble. I am grateful to Carcanet Press for permission to use Stephen Cohn’s exceptional translation.