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Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke: The Ring of Forms

Copyright Date: 1958
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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    Rainer Maria Rilke
    Book Description:

    The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke died in 1926, and interest in his poetry has been mounting ever since. The winds of fashion, taste, or personal bias have shifted several times to affect his audience of readers. There have been, according to previous Rilke criticism, not one but many Rilkes. Thus the critics have pointed to the “early Rilke” and the “late Rilke,” to the Prague poet, the Paris poet, and the Muzot poet. Now, in a fresh approach yet one which takes full cognizance of the varying viewpoints and conflicting purposes of earlier criticism, Professor Wood carefully examines Rilke’s entire poetic output. The major concern here is with the poetry itself rather than with the biographical, psychological, or philosophical questions which have dominated most previous criticism. Through a close textual analysis of the poems, Professor Wood demonstrates that the whole body of Rilke’s writing, from beginning to end, is thoroughly interrelated and interdependent. As he points out, many more published materials, both posthumous verse and correspondence, are available now than in the earlier periods of Rilke’s fame, a situation which adds significance to this new evaluation. In addition to analyzing Rilke’s own poetry, Professor Wood shows the links between Rilke and such contemporary poets and writers as Gide, Proust, T.S. Eliot, and Yeats. The excerpts quoted from Rilke’s poetry are given both in the original German text and in standard English translation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-3703-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    The amplitude of Rilke criticism today, representing so many different points of view and so many conflicting purposes, is perhaps sufficient justification for introducing another study with some comment on the “many Rilkes.” Since his death in 1926, the winds of fashion, taste, or personal bias have shifted several times. The first Rilke audience was chiefly concerned with the early poetry,The Book of HoursandThe Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke. Later, during the twenties and early thirties, the poet of theNew Poemsbecame the fashion. Only from the mid-thirties on did the...

  4. I The Early Workshop
    (pp. 10-37)

    If Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the Austrian poet, had died at the age of twenty, as Hermann Bahr once exaggeratedly remarked, he would have been the most beautiful figure in the world’s literature. If Stefan George, his great contemporary, had written no more than the earlyHymns, the stamp of his highly individual art would have left some vestiges on posterity. If Rainer Maria Rilke’s reputation, however, were to be measured solely by his early poetry, it would hardly have survived a temporary sensation on the part of a few friends and acquaintances, chiefly restricted to Prague. Rilke always admitted that...

  5. II The Dark God
    (pp. 38-60)

    The year 1899, to judge quantitatively, was one of the utmost productivity. Rilke’s writing expanded in several directions, all of which, though not in equal degree, were to furnish permanent strands in the pattern of his work: the already discussedEarly Poems, a sequel to the aesthetic experiences of the Italian journey of 1898; the first part ofThe Book of Hoursfollowing the first Russian visit; thenThe Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher RilkeandStories about God, besides many poems taken up inThe Book of Images. The abrupt and often incredibly rapid productivity...

  6. III Experiment in Objectivity
    (pp. 61-94)

    Rilke referred toNew Poems, written between 1903 and 1907, as new “in more than one sense,” without enlarging upon his meaning. We also know, from a remark made to his French translator, that many of them “wrote themselves, in final form, often several in one day.”¹ However that may be (and the letters of these years hardly corroborate the statement), the “new” poems are not only products of a more deliberate craftsmanship but equally signs of a technical awareness and sensitivity unknown toThe Book of Hours, where objects are almost one-dimensionally treated and hardly emerge from the brown...

  7. IV The Autobiography of a Book
    (pp. 95-116)

    InThe Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, begun in 1904 and published in 1910, Rilke imaginatively records a poet’s experience against the background of his culture. The work therefore provides a parallel to, and summary of, many aspects ofNew Poems, much in the same way as the Rodin essays accompanyThe Book of Images, orStories about GodcompleteThe Book of Hours. It would be oversimplification to say that such parallelism falls into a neat pattern of question and response, though it does illuminate the dialectical play of Rilke’s thinking, so fundamental in all he wrote. TheNotebooks...

  8. V The Critical Years
    (pp. 117-144)

    A very good case could be made for assessing the period from 1910 to 1919, conveniently divided by a caesura with the onset of war in 1914, as perhaps the most important in Rilke’s entire creative life. The significance of these years has usually been overlooked or treated with condescension. Too frequently the orientation has been taken from the fact that no major work appeared from 1910 to 1922. The emphasis only too readily has fallen on the factor of poetic sterility and intermittency of genius rather than on what actually went on in, or vitally contributed to, a second...

  9. VI Angel
    (pp. 145-180)

    The various attempts to interpret theDuino Elegieson the part of Rilke critics have helped to clear up many obscure problems. Yet none has been entirely successful since the poetry itself is made up of a number of blended elements which, when disentangled, may be made to serve the critics’ special bias. Again, it is almost impossible to treat theElegiesandSonnetsas a whole without in some measure falling back on paraphrase, for in no other modern poetry are “expression” (Ausdruck) and “statement” (Aussage), to use Guardini’s terms, so closely interwoven.¹ In his later poetry, in fact,...

  10. VII Orpheus
    (pp. 181-210)

    If we had only theElegies—particularly drawing upon the Tenth, with its unreverberating footfalls from the Hills of Primal Pain—we should, as Rilke informs us, have only a partial picture of the possibilities of the human spirit for achieving selfrealization.¹ We may, if we will, accept such critical estimates that theElegiesmerely express despair without interpreting it, or that they are more concerned with problem and process—theSonnets to Orpheus, on the other hand, with implication and result.² Such abstractions, when applied to Rilke, are misleading once they leave the ground where the key symbols, metaphors,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-220)

    Rilke continued to write, from the abundant February days of 1922 until his death in 1926, an impressive number of poems, both in French and German, in many ways an after-harvest of theElegiesandSonnets. Not only does this poetry reflect back on previous levels of perception and feeling, setting the earlier work in clearer focus, but it more particularly attempts to bring to a reposeful conclusion the tensions and strains that electrified the Duino atmosphere. Whether this attempt was really successful is another question. At any rate, the last poems do not revert to the simple, spontaneous patterns...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 223-231)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 232-234)
  14. Index
    (pp. 235-240)