An Elegiac Envisage: remembering Rilke

Six years back when I read Duino Elegies for the first time, it was a simply a carnage. I, then a nineteen year old, was simply slaughtered again and again by the virtuosity and prowess of Rilke. It was not my first encounter with the twentieth century modernism and its consequence on literature. I had already read Joyce, Woolf, Eliot’s Wasteland, Camus and I think I read Sartre‘s Nausea by then too. I was yet to read Samuel Beckett or Ezra Pound of Sylvia Plath, but my familiarity with modernism was not very remote and hence I cannot attribute my reaction to Rilke’s Duino elegies simply to the novelty towards the zeitgeist of early twentieth century. The Christian Existentialism, characterizing Rilke’s work was somewhat novel to me as I had neither read Kierkegaard nor watched the works of Ingmar Bergman. But only this naiveté on my part cannot be attributed to my adoration bordering dangerously towards submission to Rilke. Even  if I accept that his existential crisis and his affliction conferred upon him by modernism is what constituted his work, I would still conserve, even assert, that Duino elegies is the best poetical work that the modernism has produced. His exuberant prophetic rants may not outlast the disinterested feeling of loss that Eliot’s works emanate, but they are far more out-sizing in their premises.

“In your embrace you almost find
the promise of eternity. And yet, when you’ve survived
the fear of that first look, the longing at the window,
and that first walk in the garden, once: lovers,
are you still the same?”

While writing about Rilke it is so tempting to put down quote one after another and be drowned; submerged by the deluge of sublime elegance. Perhaps Rilke would have lived inside of me, more often than not as the part of a subconscious entity, had not One of our fellow blogger’s work reminded me of  him. Today when I tried to read him, I attempted to remain objective and not be indulged into the puerile obsession I had while first reading his work. I don’t remember whose translation it was that I read back six years back. Today I was reading the wonderful translation of A. Paulin Jr. I was able to make a few observation today that I was not able to six years back, such as how Rilke used ‘Du’, the familiar form of you in German, rather than the formal Sie, how the second and first persons are often interchangeable, as if the you is but a construct and a projection of I. Herman Hesse hinted a similar mode in his novel Demian and Gao Xinjian used this style on his magnum opus novel Soul Mountain and in his autobiographical work One man’s bible, and today while reading Rilke, who appeared closer to him, was not the likes of Eliot or Pound, but Xinjian or Murakami.

“Do you hear the New, Master,
droning and throbbing?
Its prophesying promoters
are advancing.”

I don’t elude myself thinking that Rilke would survive our age of information flux. With academia’s interesting waning, Rilke would remain as an obscure figure, once prominent, now his passion rendered superfluous in the age of stolidity. I don’t see many people pouring over Rilke and I don’t expect to encounter a single soul who was struck by the magnanimity of this poet as I was, even without being able to read him in his original language. Still Rilke would remain inside of me, not as a mere integral part, but almost like a dream that by some uncanny way turned into memory.


3 responses to “An Elegiac Envisage: remembering Rilke

  1. I was drawn here while doing a tag search for “Sylvia Plath” posts. I appreciate your poetic reflections. I haven’t read much Rilke, but what I have read I have enjoyed.

    I’ve been reading Plath’s early journals for a writing project and am looking to foster dialogue on her life and work. I wrote a brief post today on some of her early perspectives, here –

    I would love for you to check it out as you have the chance and comment if you feel so led.

    Keep up the good writing.

    • Thanks, though this entry is a bit too personal and I feel a separate book review of duino elegies is due. I read Plath 2-3 years back while also reading some second wave feminist texts like works of Friedan or Jong. My viewing of Plath is a bit skewed as I always saw her more as a feminist icon poet than simply a poet; so I would love to see how someone more neutral on this front sees Plath.

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