A Companion to the Works of Rainer Maria Rilke edited by Erika A. Metzger, Michael M. Metzger (Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture: Camden House) The eleven essays in A Companion`to the Works of Rainer Maria Rilke do not represent a single, unifying point of view. Rather, because experts have composed them, they provide for each work the author's unique insights and avenues of approach to the poet. The editors took care to preserve the benefits of that independence. In the editors’ Introduction they concentrate on showing Rilke in critical context, the poet as the "hermit" contained within his "theory" of being and expression, as Rilke once described himself. They discuss various aspects of Rilke's poetic career, among them his dramas, his letters, and his "uncollected" poems, all of them essential to a comprehensive assessment of his stature and meant to encourage readers grapple with the poet’s works themselves.
Patricia Pollock Brodsky: Colored Glass and Mirrors: Life with Rilke considers how intertwined the life and works of the poet are. She considers the variables involved. The act of reading is relativized by circumstances surrounding it. Any reading depends in part on the age, life experiences, and needs of the reader. And it changes with time as the reader changes, reading through the filter of his own experiences and attitudes, learning to see the works ‑ and himself ‑ in a different light A new reader of Rilke, or even one returning to his works, would do well to cultivate a certain amount of self‑awareness qua reader, keeping in mind his own historical and psychological formation, his politics and philosophy, his current tastes, and his tolerance for ambiguity. Secondly, the reader must also take into consideration the person and world of the author: who he was, when he wrote, the things that were important to him at the moment of creation of a particular work. The relationship between reader and author/work will be volatile and personal. It will not always be amicable or easy. But like any friendship worth cultivating and keeping, it will be resilient and rewarding. And every new encounter will be subtly different. Another variable in approaching Rilke (or any complicated writer) involves a repeated act of choice. There is a multiplicity of Rilkes, evoked by asking different questions of his works. Another way of putting it would be the image of a kaleidoscope. The Greek name for this ancient plaything, which with colored glass and mirrors provides a new set of images each time it is shaken or turned, means literally "to view beautiful forms" (from kalos, beautiful, eidos, form, and skopein, to view). All the patterns are potentially present at once, in simultaneity of color and outline, balance and nuance; which one emerges depends on a twist of the wrist. Which Rilke emerges from a reading of his works or his biography, which particular set of overlapping details comes into focus, depends on the question we pose, and the "life patterns" we examine.
In James Rolleston: The Poetry and Poetics of the Young Rilke, 1895‑1902 follows the lead of all the contributors to this volume by contextualizing his works into his life and relationships. Rilke sought to regulate our understanding of what he wrote before the move to Paris in 1902: even as he republished some of his earliest books, he made it clear that they represented an immature prelude to the achieved visual poetics of the Neue Gedichte. But one has only to recall his decade‑long creative crisis after 1911 to suspect that the entire structure of poetic self‑overcoming and self-reformulation represented for Rilke a lifelong mode of thinking and working. There was never a definitive change. Indeed virtually all Rilke's characteristic motifs ‑ the theorizing about things, the self-consciousness concerning the artist's role and perspective, the themes of solitude and death ‑ are abundantly present in his early poetry. Certainly many of these poems are mediocre at best: Rilke seems to have agreed with Stefan George, who told him at their only meeting (Florence, 1898) that he had published too much too soon. But this mediocrity is not predictable. Suddenly a fully achieved poem will present itself, with imagery alive in every line. It will be the task of this essay to identify some of the most interesting of these texts, to explore the reasons for their success and to situate them in the evolving story of Rilke's poetic production.
It is my thesis that three key elements are always woven (webs are ubiquitous images) into Rilke's successful early poems: a meditation on the meaning of selfhood, a responsiveness to place, to physical immediacy ‑ and a ceaseless struggle for a poetics, that is, a building of the poem's communicative goals into the experiential texture of the poem itself. Rilke himself suggests all this in the sophisticated yet tentative language of his Prague lecture on "Modern Poetry" (1898). Speaking of his own poetic moment, of the "legacy" of idealism in the naturalist current, Rilke says that people were beginning "to speak with things instead of about things, that is, to become `subjective'… People learned to observe their own soul as they had previously observed their environment"
In Judith Ryan:
Rilke's Early Narratives we are introduced to his early prose work. In the minds
of many modern readers, Rilke's experimental novel Die Aufzeichnungen des
Malte Laurids Brigge (1910) stands as a generic exception among the works
of a writer primarily known for his lyric poetry. In fact, however, Rilke had
long been writing prose, although he had not ventured upon a lengthy work of
prose fiction until he began Malte Laurids Brigge'in 1904. Much has been
written about the ways in which this modernist prose book emerged from Rilke's
diaries and letters, as well as about how it relates to the poetry he was
writing parallel to the gestation of the novel. It is surprising to find,
however, that little has been said about the debt Malte Laurids Brigge
owes to Rilke's early narratives. Perhaps this partial neglect has something to
do with Rilke's own understanding of his Paris novel, which he saw as a new and
particularly difficult creative challenge. His sense of the newness of this
project has tended to blind us to the ways in which his previous stories
functioned as early exercises in some of the techniques that were to be
employed in Malte Laurids Brigge.
Ralph Freedman: Das Stunden‑Buch and Das Buch der Bilder. Harbingers of Rilke's Maturity we move on to his more mature work. As an admirer of Rilke notes “This just published book (Das Stunden‑Buch) [. . .] does not lag behind the precious lyrical jewels of Das Buch der Bilder (for Rilke's art is comparable to that of a goldsmith who forms his thoughts into sparkling jewelry), but the content, in its great and deep unity, raises Das Stunden‑Buch far above that of its predecessor, for the theme it develops is the most powerful theme for which ever a singer's harp may sound, the most elevated theme the lyric can attain: the theme of the Soul's search for God.”
These ecstatic sentences from a review of Rilke's Stunden‑Buch of January 1, 1906, barely two weeks after its publication, express a deep sense of the poet's intent and a clear awareness of his accomplishment. They were written not by a fellow poet or professional critic, nor by a theologian or an academic, but by a banker, one of Rilke's most ardent admirers and supporters at the time. Karl von der Heydt, a wealthy financier who bankrolled Rilke during his mid‑life struggles, wrote this review for the staid Preufische Jahrbiicher to make a statement about Rilke's central importance to the revival of lyrical art. "Our time is no longer a time of the lyric," he began. The great mass even of educated people had lost its connection with this genre. "Still," he continued, "the lyric exists like a `secret queen,' the cornerstone and center of all literature, because it displays the poet's `I,' the soul, without mediation." And since the lyric exists, Rilke exists, "a spiritual power of the present."
What is remarkable about these phrases is not their hyperbolic intensity, the familiar neo‑romantic sentimentality with which many of Rilke's contemporaries received him in those days, but the cogent recognition of his growing achievement. Whatever one may think of the lyrical quality of Rilke's language in these works of his early maturity ‑a quality that was to distill itself into a purer, less sentimental medium is coming to birth.
In Lawrence Ryan: Neue Gedichte ‑ New Poems we approach his more measured verse. Rilke himself regarded the title Neue Gedichte for the two volumes of poetry that he published in 1907 and 1908 respectively as an appropriate one: "and they are indeed, perhaps in more than one sense: new poems: are they not?" Stylistically speaking, they represent a new stage in Rilke's poetic development: whereas in his earlier books of poetry, especially Das Stunden‑Buch, he had given free rein to an often self‑indulgent poetic virtuosity, the Neue Gedichte are more disciplined. They depict particular objects (partly identifiable from Rilke's experience in Paris) with more precise descriptiveness; their subject matter is derived to a much higher degree from historical sources, from mythological and religious tradition and from the observation and study of works of art, so that they have a considerably wider frame of reference; and they are to a greater extent organized around constantly recurring themes. In formal respects, as in the skilfial development of the sonnet form, which Rilke exploited with a hitherto unattained flexibility, a similar concentration can be observed. The Neue Gedichte ‑ together with the novel Die Aufzeichnanpen des Malte Laurids Brigge ‑ represent the culmination and the crowning achievement of the early period of Rilke's work (up to about 1910).
If within the framework of Rilke's lyrical works the newness of the Neue Gedichte can be amply justified, they are also new in the context of the German lyric, in which Rilke's lyric poetry creates new presuppositions of lyrical utterance. That he stood at a turning point, was also Rilke's own view. Despite the seeming self‑absorption of the earlier works, he was a keen reader of his poetic predecessors and contemporaries, and developed his conception of the new nature and fimction of lyric poetry with explicit reference to the poetry of his time. As an example of Rilke's ‑ admittedly early, but in subsequent years not basically changed ‑ views, one might adduce his lecture entitled "Moderne Lyrik", which was delivered in Prague in 1898. Here he sees the lyric poetry of his time as instituting a fresh beginning and being on the threshold of a great Renaissance (KA 4: 67). The objective realism of the late 19th century had opened the eyes of the poet to new dimensions of "Dinge" (things). One must dwell somewhat on this term, as it is of central importance for an understanding of Rilke's work. By "things" he does not understand objects of perception or objects that are instrumentalized ‑ reified ‑ by their subjection to human volition, but rather those that embody the concretion of inner life. Further, as the life of the subject is now defined not in its own (autonomous) terms, but as being largely determined, indeed constituted by external forces, the "barriers fall" between subject and object, and the poet who is sensitive to the needs of the age establishes a bond of understanding with those things that "merge within him with his own deepest feelings." If he attains thereby "unexpectedly a kind of pantheism," it is not the pantheism of an earlier (Romantic) age, in which the subject is at one with a divine nature, but one in which he has above all to listen ("lauschen") to the secret life that is in him, but not entirely of him. He speaks not of things, but with things as they impinge on the self, and precisely in so doing he speaks of himself, is subjective. The turning to "things" is to be seen in the context not just of a new objectivity, but of one that encompasses a new subjectivity.
George C. Schoolfield: Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brie On February 19, 1912, Rilke wrote to Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis from Duino that, eight years before, he had started on Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge "without really knowing it." He found himself yearning for Rome in these late winter days ‑strange indeed considering how unhappy Rilke had been in Rome eight years before. He had been there since September 10, 1903, and grew ever more restless during the garish and premature Italian spring. On March 17, 1904, he had told Lou Andreas‑Salome that "a month before" he had begun "a sort of second part of the Gescbicbten vom lieben Gott," "now I'm somewhat in the midst of it, without knowing how it will continue, when and whither." On April 15, he gave Lou the precise starting date, February 8, adding that his tempo of composition had changed. He would never again write a book in ten days or evenings. His prediction was right; Malte was finished on January 27, 1910.
The two versions of the book's original beginning were not printed until 1961 and, regrettably, are not included in the English translations. In the first, the author recalls a strange acquaintance, with whom he had apparently once shared a house and who had recounted what seemed to be memories of his life, blending in, however, various other lives, and "just then his words were the most convincing." The narrator gradually lost touch with this person, who had left "quietly as one leaves a theater with the curtain up." The narrator feels he has read the events in a book that does not yet exist "and therefore it shall be written in these lonely days." The second, longer ingressus is preserved in a fair copy Rilke made in Sweden in the autumn of 1904. Now given a name, Malte Laurids Brigge visits one of his few acquaintances in Paris. That very day, on the Boulevard des Capucins, Malte had realized how a seemingly unimportant childhood event was connected with his present self. Brigge's shapely hands "lay beside one another with a certain relaxed solemnity like the figures of a king and his consort on a tombstone." The visitor reveals that he has found "the magic word for my closed mountains, the golden horn at whose call help always comes." His host observes "what possibilities lay in [Brigge's] face: the masks of very many great and remarkable fates emerged from its forms and sank back again into the depths of an unknown life." In the second version, the tale of Christine Brahe's ghostly appearances in the great hall at old Count Brahe's estate, Urnekloster, follows; this became episode #15. In his Rilke Kammentar, August Stahl (152‑248) has numbered the entries in Malte from one to seventy‑one, a system of reference followed here.
Rilke's letters from his Roman spring of 1904 grew ever fuller of Scandinavia. On May 12‑13, he told Lou that he intended to write a monograph on Jens Peter Jacobsen, whose work he had admired in German translation ever since 1896. He planned to learn Danish, recalling his stay in 1902 at Castle Haseldorf in Holstein, where he had rummaged through a library full of material about Danish‑German noble families. Rilke asked his publisher, Axel Juncker, for a Danish edition of Jacobsen's works, a Danish grammar, and a Danish‑German dictionary. He got his wife Clara to hint, heavily, to the Swedish feminist, Ellen Key, with whom he had corresponded after giving her Das Jabrbundert des Kindes (The Century of the Child) an ecstatic review in 1902, about the need for a sojourn in Scandinavia. Ellen wangled an invitation for Rilke to a chateau, Borgeby, in Skane, South Sweden, owned by a well‑to‑do peasant, Hanna Larsson, who was engaged to the eccentric painter and poet Ernst Norlind. Rilke's June stopover in Copenhagen, where he imagined he saw Johannes and Cordelia from Kierkegaard's The Seducer's Diary on the street, his summer stay at Borgeby, his autumn at Furuborg outside Gothenburg, where well‑off friends of Ellen Key lived, and intermittent visits to the Danish capital (he felt less and less comfortable there) constituted his actual experience of Scandinavia from June 24 to December 10, 1904. He never returned to the North. The Jacobsen book was never written.
Kathleen L, Komar Rethinking Rilke's at the End of the Millennium: we now approach the mature work of the poet still within the framework of his life but now with more focus on his influence. While half listening to a televised film review by Roger Ebert in early 1999, I suddenly became conscious of the words, "Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic realms." I turned to see Derek Jacobi ‑ playing British artist Francis Bacon in the 1998 film Love Is the Devil'‑ deliver the opening question of Rilke's Duino Elegies. Rethinking Rilke's lines in the context of Bacon's tortured paintings gave the poetry a new slant. The image of a consciousness in crisis turning to Rilke's Elegies, however, made perfect sense. Rilke has become a guru of consciousness in our late twentieth‑century world. His Duino Elegies figure prominently in this reputation.
In Germany, the Insel Verlag (the main publisher of Rilke's work) has even produced Rilke fiir Gestreflte (Rilke for the Stressed), advertised with the motto from Rilke, "Leben, Geduld haben, arbeiten and keinen Anlafi zur Freude versaumen" (Live, have patience, work and miss no opportunity for joy). Under these headings, we find Rilke's Ninth Elegy (Leben), Eighth Elegy (Geduld haben), Tenth Elegy (arbeiten), and Seventh Elegy (keinen Anlag zur Freude versaumen). This little volume proposes Rilke as a guide to finding unity between individual human consciousness and existence ‑ and the world of things ‑ at large. Somewhat akin to American John Mood's popular Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties that follows Rilke as a mentor in mid 1970', Rilke fair Gestreflte sees Rilke in the late 1990' as a master who can lead us to a more fulfilled and less anxious life. In her comments to the volume, Vera Hauschild rightly declares the Duino Elegies to be Rilke's final completion of his life‑long apprentice of learning to affirm life in all its complexity.
In the United States Rilke surfaces in any number of "new age" and consciousness exploring contexts,' which seek ways in which human consciousness can gain access to the metaphysical realm. Rilke's work, particularly the Duino Elegies (and the angels that inhabit them), provide one means for bridging the gap between individual human consciousness and the broader spiritual realm.' While some critics have identified Rilke as a mystic,' others see his work rather as a lyric exploration of mystical experience rather than seeing him as a mystic himself.'
In the worldly realm, however, Rilke's work also appears in a variety of popular media. His poetry turns up in American films of the 1990' ranging from Sister Act 2 and Little Man Tate to Awakenings and City of Angels (itself a remake of Wim Wenders 1987 Wings of Desire which also draws heavily on Rilke). Even more extraordinarily, we find Rilke quoted extensively on television programs about angelsb and featured repeatedly in the New Yorker.' Rilke and his Duino Elegies are there in London as well in the "Mask Noir" series in Ken Bruen's novel Rilke on Black. He emerges in the American poetry of Raphael Rubinstein's The Basement of the Cafe Rilke in which Rubinstein recalls Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, Tripmaster Monkey (1989), in which Rilke's ideas occur frequently. More surprisingly, however, Rilke also emerges as a spiritual guide in the writings of David Whyte and Danah Zohar who aim to improve the psychic life of corporate entrepreneurs In fact, Rilke has become almost omnipresent in the 1990'. Appearing in cultural forms from the mystical realm of "new age" consciousness to the business offices of corporate leaders, Rilke's work has moved far beyond the academy to be embraced by readers from the entire spectrum of contemporary life.
In Alan Keele: Poesis and the Great Tree of Being: A Holistic Reading of Rilke's Sonette an Orpheus we are given keys to appreciation of Rilke’s other major work. Rilke composed the fifty‑five Sonette an Orpheus in 1922 while living in a castle tower at the Chateau de Muzot, near Sierre in the canton of Valais, Switzerland. There he experienced a remarkable three-week outpouring of poetic inspiration lasting from the second to the twenty‑third of February, 1922. In the first four days, from the second to the fifth of February, he completed the entire first part of the cycle, twenty‑six sonnets in all! On the twenty-third of February he wrote in a letter to his publisher and friend Katharina Kippenberg that several sonnets often announced themselves on the same day, almost simultaneously, so that his pencil had trouble keeping up with their arrival.
During these three weeks Rilke also completed the half finished Duineser Elegien, those ten long poems begun almost exactly a decade earlier in another castle, Duino, on the Adriatic, during a similarly intense burst of inspiration. On the eleventh of February, immediately upon the completion of the elegies, the poet wrote his friend and former hostess at Duino, Princess Marie von Thurn and Taxis, calling the fury of creativity at Muzot "An indescribable storm, a hurricane in my mind and my spirit (like that time at Duino)".
Thereafter Rilke related his remarkable experience to a number of other acquaintances, invariably in terms like the following: "[The] Sonnets to Orpheus [. . .] are perhaps the most mysterious, to me personally, in the manner in which they arose and in which they took possession of me, the most enigmatic dictation I have ever endured and performed..”
With their richly varied and creative images, rhythmical patterns, and rhyme schemes, stretching but not quite bursting the classical sonnet form, this mysterious and enigmatic work has intrigued and challenged readers worldwide as have few other collections of poems. Even Rilke himself, at first so overwhelmed by the onslaught of this unexpected dictation, only later gradually fully experienced and came to understand the Sonette an Orpheus‑. "At first and second glance some elements may seem difficult to understand," he wrote a year later, " but I recently had the joy of discovering that I am now in a position to understand the entire overall scheme of things and by means of a few explanatory comments also able to communicate this in such a way that nothing remains in ambiguous darkness, and, if in darkness at all, then in its own brilliant, radiant darkness, against which there is no antidote but consecration, acclimation, and submission.”
With this level of understanding also as our goal, let us begin together to submit ourselves to the brilliant darkness of the Sonette an Orpheus, consecrating ourselves to reading them at first in close detail, paying particular attention to a few key elements in a few key sonnets. Later, having thus established a kind of exegetical framework, having begun to acclimate ourselves to them, we will of necessity discuss the remaining sonnets much more briefly, given that it would take a very long book devoted just to these fifty‑five poems, if each poem were to be treated at any length. Likewise, when we are investigating key poems in depth, our analysis will emphasize the original German, whereas when we are obligated by the constraints of space to deal more economically with certain other poems, we will rely largely on English paraphrase of the meaning.
Girard Bucher: Rilke's Poetry in the French Language: The Enigma of Mythopoietic Reversal offers some insights not readily apparent to an Anglophone reader. Rilke’s works in French appear from the outset to be an enigma. How can one explain that at the very moment when his creativity reached its highest pitch -- when according to Robert Musil "the porcelain [was transfigured] into marble" -- the poet chose to venture upon the path of a surprising poetic bilingualism? Why, after he had found a new home in the castle of Muzot in French Switzerland and had completed the Duineser Elegien early in 1922, and, in lightning‑like bursts, the Sonette an Orpheus, did he devote himself in equal parts to his poetry in French and German? From 1923 until his death at the end of 1926, the twentieth century's most celebrated poet in the German language wrote no fewer than 450 poems in French. Just as his first collection of fifteen poems Affectionate Tributes to France was nearing completion in 1924, he deprecated, as often before, the quality of his French. As he wrote to his friend and benefactor Nanny Wunderly-Volkart (1878-1962) on February 8, 1924, "I have recently written down some lines of poetry that came to me in French. There are some that I like, without claiming that they are in truly authentic Frenchn"
Other writers, T. S. Eliot`or Jean Arp, for example, occasionally attempted to write verses in a foreign language ‑ Rilke himself tried a few in Italian and Russian. Exile compelled others, like Nabokov, to abandon their native languages and establish themselves in new ones. Nonetheless, Rilke's poetic bilingualism remains exceptional, indeed perplexing. How are we to explain his choosing to write in two languages precisely at the point where his life's work, in its ultimate aim, concerned not only the poet's most acutely personal identity, his mother tongue, but what Maria Tsvetaeva called the very "spirit of poetry”?
Karl E. Webb: Rainer Maria Rilke and the Visual Arts concludes the volume with a close`look of Rilke’s relationship with the visual arts. This relationship to the visual arts has produced more secondary literature than perhaps any other aspect of his works as can be seen in the "Works Cited" below. This is not surprising since there is hardly another author in German literature who was more involved with the visual arts than Rilke. As a youth in Prague, he already made a habit of visiting art exhibitions and of commenting on them, and as a student in Munich, he was much more inclined to attend the latest art happenings than to pursue his studies. This holds true in Berlin as well, after his move there in 1897. From this early period until the final years of his life, Rilke remained conversant with the latest developments and with the leading figures in the visual arts. His critical works concerned themselves to a large degree with the arts, and he wrote to friends, throughout his life, about his perceptions of the latest art phenomena. The fact that he early on thought he might become an art historian and that he later married a sculptress and was involved throughout his life in her career only serves to emphasize his relationship to the visual arts. One prominent critic has gone so far recently as to call Rilke a "painter‑poet"..
Rilke had taken courses in art history at Munich in 1896 and built a wide working knowledge of artists and art movements in general, following the contemporary scene closely as reported in the many journals he read. He derived decisive subjective experiences and opinions from frequent visits to various museums and exhibitions. Rilke possessed innate gifts of observation and sought always to be precise in his writing; however, he was also willing to reveal his own intrinsic connection to the artwork in question, so that his writing invariably presents a unique mixture of objective investigation and subjective reaction. We also note a particular interest of Rilke's essentially to analyze and critique only those artists who, by virtue of their lives and works, demonstrated artistic traits and inclinations similar to his own. Thus, his writings, though factual and methodical, typically demonstrate as well the poet's own idiosyncratic relationship to the subject.
Given this intimate association with what he was writing about, it is understandable that Rilke's involvement with the visual arts also had a profound effect upon his own literary works. Throughout his life, one discovers in literary form those characteristics he had described in art, for example, and in the religious art of Russia, in the prevailing trends of the Jugendttil, and in the artistic techniques and themes of Auguste Rodin, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso. A further indication of his close personal relationship with the visual arts is the fact that, in the beginning, his critical writings were couched in the very decorative, even opulent style typical of his own youthful literary production; later, his critical language assumed a more objective and less effusive tone equivalent to his more mature literary works. In this discussion, we propose to look not only at the artists and the art to which Rilke devoted so much of his writing energy but also briefly at its effect on his own literary works.
A Selected Bibliography, notes on the Contributors and a useful Index complete this useful introduction to the life and work of Rilke.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Autobiography, Fiction, and Therapy by Hajo Drees
(Studies on Themes and Motifs in Literature, Vol 60: Peter Lang) Rainer Maria
Rilke has been hailed as the most celebrated German-speaking poet of the
twentieth century, if not in all history.
Rainer Maria Rilke: Autobiography, Fiction, and Therapy gives a
comprehensive overview of the autobiographical tendencies in Rilke's poetry and
fiction from his early works to his masterpiece: The Duino Elegies.
Particular attention is given to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
Hajo Drees discusses and positions current theories on autobiography and
autobiographical fiction and applies these findings to Rilke's life and creative
writing. A close analysis of Rilke's theory on art and the artist with selected
letters to his friends, editors, and family exposes three significant
developmental stages dividing Rilke's work into three distinct phases.
Maria Rilke used his poetry to overcome such a disequilibrium and identity crisis. "Metamorphosis," "change," "transition," "transformation," there are few other words and concepts in Rilke's writing that are used with as much frequency. Rilke's work mirrors the phases of transformation his person experienced during his life, notably in his 37th year. At this time, he experienced a mid-life crisis. He commenced the metamorphosis from a young experimental poet to a mature adult poet. "This transformation at midlife would forge a stable adult identity as well as bring into reality the creative work each man was born to actualize".1 Rilke was transformed from the poet of The New Poems and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge to the creator of The Duino Elegies. In order to succeed as an artist and satisfy his inner calling, Rilke developed a distinct theory on art, the creation of art, and the role of the artist. This allowed him to produce The New Poems and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. In The Notebooks, which has often been referred to as autobiographical or autobiographical fiction, Rilke devised striking modes of inquiry into his identity. Rilke had reached a point in his life where he needed to write The Notebooks to uncover his repressed childhood. By identifying and then distancing himself from his alter ego, the protagonist Malte, he discovered that he needed to overcome the repressed aspects of his past. They had begun to strangle his creativity. After he had uncovered this past of his self, he needed to accept and integrate it as a part of his identity before he was able to complete his greatest work: The Duino Elegies. Only then, could he complete the cycle of transformation he had begun by choosing his calling as a poet early in life.
An autobiographical reading of Rilke's writing reveals the process of transformation in Rilke and his work. It also reveals how the author included autobiographical instances in his work from personal observations and impressions he had recorded in letters to friends and family. In the process, the reason for Rilke's continued popularity in context with our modern desire for an autobiographical, authentic vision of this life is elucidated.
Before Rilke's writing and theories on the role and function of the artist can be examined from an autobiographical perspective, a more precise definition of autobiographies and the motivation for autobiographical writing needs to be established.
This investigation will thus begin with a closer look at autobiographical fiction in Part I. Chapter One traces the history and popularity of autobiography, establishing the new genre as a reflection of our postmodern world. Chapter Two investigates the duality of fact and fiction in autobiographical writing. It questions the very concept of fictional writing and situates autobiographies as autobiographical fiction in a continuum between memoirs, biographies and fiction. Chapter Three develops the concept of autobiographical fiction and explains the need of early childhood memories in autobiographical fiction. Chapter Four concludes Part I with a brief excursus on the therapeutic function of autobiographical writing with case studies on Johann Wolfgang Goethe and Christa Wolf.Part II applies the conclusions drawn in Part I to Rainer Maria Rilke and interprets his work from an autobiographical perspective. Chapter Five introduces Rilke, the person and the poet, with a brief biography. Chapter Six begins the study with a closer look at Rilke's early writing and the relationship of his detailed letters to his fiction. Chapter Seven proceeds to analyze his theories on art and the role of the artist. Chapter Eight applies these findings in a critical reading of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and pursues Rilke's identification with his alter ego Malte. Chapter Nine exposes Rilke's identity crises and the therapeutic elements of his poetic development. Chapter Ten depicts how this transformation culminated in his masterpiece: The Duino Elegies. The conclusion summarizes the findings and illuminates Rilke's life long terror and eventual salvation with his muse, his angels and his poetry, illustrating his painful and difficult path as a poet and human being during his childhood and adult life.
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