In the fall of 1954, enrolled in an undergraduate intermediate German course, Sylvia Plath undertook a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1908 poem “Ein Prophet.” Though this translation has received only scant attention from scholars, it represents Plath’s first poetic engagement with German, an engagement that extends all the way to the six poems she wrote about the untimely death of her German-born father. Taking that early work seriously, then, this essay explores the relationship between mourning and translation in Plath’s work from the Rilke translation through the muchstudied later poems. Where translation is often figured as a process of loss, with a focus on what is “lost in translation,” this essay argues that in Plath’s work it figures too as a way of responding to loss—as a process of mourning.

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