Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926)

  • Hans Reiss


From his early youth onwards, Rainer Maria Rilke felt himself to be a poet and, for him, this was no mean thing. He had no doubts about his poetic vocation, though frequently, despite all his facility in writing verse, he had grave doubts whether he would be able to satisfy his own poetic standards. He never hesitated, however, to take all the necessary steps to accommodate the needs of his poetic genius. If poetry served his ends, it did so not merely for selfish reasons and a powerful streak of narcissism or emotional solipsism dominated his approach — but on account also of his conviction that art mattered for the world at large. For Rilke not only vocation and personal ambition, but also metaphysics and aesthetics were inseparable. Poetry was a meaningful activity; it also provided the answer to the riddle of the universe.1 It came to usurp the place of religion and philosophy.2


External World External Reality Great Artist Lyric Poetry Poetic Form 
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  1. 3.
    Cf. Mason, Rilke, p. 11, who discusses this aspect at length. For a detailed critical account of Rilke’s early years cf. Peter Demetz, René Rilkes Prager Jahre, Düsseldorf, 1953.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Cf. Rilke’s own comments in the Geburt der Tragödie, [Marginalien] zu Friedrich Nietzsches ‘Geburt der Tragödie’; (R, vi, pp. 1 163–1 177), cf. also Fritz Dehn, Rilke und Nietzsche. Ein Vergleich’, Dichtung und Volkstum (= Euphorion), XXXVII, 1936;Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Erich Heller, ‘Nietzsche and Rilke, with a discourse on Nietzsche’s belief in Poetry’, The Disinherited Mind: Essays on Modern Literature and Thought 7th ed., 1975, pp. 123–77;Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Walter Kaufmann, ‘Nietzsche and Rilke’, From Shakespeare to Existentialism New York, 1960, pp. 200–18.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Cf. the works by Mason quoted above, as well as the bibliography of his writings on Rilke in his Rainer Maria Rilke. Leben und Werk pp. 149–52; cf. also Stephens; Jacob Steiner, Rilkes Duineser Elegien Berne and Munich, 1962;Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    Hans Egon Holthusen, Rainer Maria Rilke in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1952; Rilke. A Study of his later Poetry, New Haven, Conn., 1952;Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Judith Ryan, Umschlag und Verwandlung, Poetische Struktur und Dichtungstheorie in R. M. Rilkes Lyrik der mittleren Periode (1907–14), Munich, 1972.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Cf. Joachim W. Storck’s invaluable study Rainer Maria Rilke als Briefschreiber an unpublished dissertation, Freiburg I. Br., 1957, a work which merits publication.Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    R-Tb., p. 46. Cf. also the remarks in Zur Melodie der Dinge (presumably written in the summer or autumn 1898), particularly R, v pp. 415f.Google Scholar
  10. 37.
    Cf. Michael Oakeshott, Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind London, 1959, for a persuasive statement of this point of view.Google Scholar
  11. 42.
    Cf. Eudo C. Mason, ‘Zur Entstehung und Deutung von Rilkes Stundenbuch’, Exzentrische Bahnen, Göttingen, 1963, p. 199.Google Scholar
  12. 63.
    Cf. Briefe über Cézanne (to Clara Rilke), ed. Clara Rilke, Leipzig, n.d.; cf. also Herman Meyer, ‘Rilkes Cézanne-Erlebnis’, Zarte Empire. Studien zur Literaturgeschichte Stuttgart, 1963.Google Scholar
  13. 70.
    Cf. Ryan, particularly pp. 11–17, for whom it is, in the main, a poetic principle; cf. also Mason, Rilke p. 77, who related it to his personal background and states that Rilke saw it to be universal law; cf. also Idris Parry, ‘Rilke and the Idea of Umschlag’, Modern Languages XXXIX, 1958, pp. 136–40, who relates this principle to Rilke’s attitude to life.Google Scholar
  14. 71.
    Cf. my article, ‘Tradition in Modern Poetry. T. S. Eliot and Rainer Maria Rilke. A Comparison’, Proceedings of the IVth Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, The Hague and Paris, 1966.Google Scholar
  15. 73.
    Cf. Herman Uyttersprot, ‘Rainer Maria Rilke-Der Turm’, Neophilologus, XXXIX, 1955, pp. 262–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 75.
    Cf. Ryan, pp. 52ff., and also the pioneering study by Herman Uyttersprot, ‘Rilkes Gedichte Die Gazelle’, Deutschunterricht, LXIV, 1962, pp. 20–9.Google Scholar
  17. 76.
    Cf. for a study of these poems Manfred Hausmann, Rilkes Apollosonette and H. J. Weigand, ‘Rilkes Archäischer Torso Apollos’, Monatshefte für den Deutschen Unterricht, deutsche Sprache und Literatur,LI, 1959.Google Scholar
  18. 76.
    Cf. also Jacob Steiner, ‘Kunst und Literatur. Zu Rilkes Kathedralengedichten’, Wissen und Erfahrungen. Werkbegriff und Interpretation heute, Festschrift für Herman Meyer zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. Alexander von Bormann, Tübingen, 1976.Google Scholar
  19. 88.
    Quoted by Katharina Kippenberg, R. M. Rilke. Ein Beitrag Leipzig, 1935, p. 143. The translation is Mason’s (Rilke p. 72).Google Scholar
  20. 96.
    Cf. Egon Schwarz, Das Verschluckte Schluchzen. Poesie und Politik bei Rainer Maria Rilke Frankfurt/Main, 1972, a well-written book which however overrates the significance of Rilke’s political stance.Google Scholar
  21. 97.
    Cf. Joachim W. Storck (ed.), Rainer Maria Rilke 1875–1975 (Catalogue of an Exhibition under the Auspices of the Deutsche Literaturarchiv, Schiller-Nationalmuseum, Marbach a. N. ), Stuttgart, 1975, p. 190.Google Scholar
  22. 101.
    Cf. the important essay by William Rose, ‘Rilke and the Conception of Death’, W. Rose and G. Craig-Houston, R. M. Rilke: Aspects of his Mind and Thought London, 1938, pp. 41–84, for a penetrating discussion of the whole subject.Google Scholar
  23. 102.
    There is a not surprisingly rather difficult, if not obscure, book, on this Rilke by Werner Günther with the title Weltinnenraum (Berne, 1946).Google Scholar
  24. 104.
    Cf. Idris Parry, ‘Rilke and Orpheus’, Times Literary Supplement No. 3848, 12 December 1975, who develops this theme.Google Scholar
  25. 112.
    Cf. Mason, Rilke p. 82f., who examines Rilke’s dissatisfaction with his Narcissism very carefully; cf. also Frank Wood, The Ring of Forms Minneapolis, 1958, pp. 140–3, who discusses this aspect of Rilke’s thought with great discrimination and draws attention to the approving and critical views of this aspect of experience by S. S. Prawer in German Lyrical Poety. A Critical Analysis of Selected Poems from Klopstock to Rilke London, 1952, p. 218, and Holthusen, p. 28.Google Scholar
  26. 119.
    This point is made by Mason, Rilke as well as by T. J. Casey, Rainer Maria Rilke. A Centenary Essay London, 1976.Google Scholar
  27. 120.
    Cf. Otto Friedrich Bollnow, R. M. Rilke 2nd ed., Stuttgart, 1951, p. 16, who stresses the importance of this world.Google Scholar
  28. 125.
    Cf. Idris Parry ‘Space and Time’: ‘Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus’, MLR, Lxviii, 1963, for an imaginative account of the main problems of the cycle. Cf. also Hans Egon Wolthusen, Rilkes Sonette an Orpheus Versuch einer Interpretation, Munich, 1937;Google Scholar
  29. 125.
    Hermann Märchen, Rilkes Sonette an Orpheus Stuttgart, 1958, for detailed accounts of this cycle.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Hans Reiss 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans Reiss
    • 1
  1. 1.BristolUK

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