When Rilke came to Paris

When Rilke came to Paris he was still a High Romantic, brother-in-art to the likes of Novalis, Klopstock, and the Goethe of Young Werther. Rodin, almost offhandedly, pulled the young dreamer’s head out of the clouds and knocked some common sense into him. For the sculptor, work was everything: Il faut travailler—toujours travailler was his motto. As for inspiration, Rilke wrote, the mere possibility of it he “shakes off indulgently and with an ironic smile, suggesting that there is no such thing….” These assertions must have struck Rilke like thunderbolts. Suddenly it was not the emotion or the idea that mattered, but the thing. Rodin was, above all, a maker of things* … / John Banville, The New York Review of Books**

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German and with an introduction by Mark Harman
Harvard University Press, 94 pp., $15.95

*) Ding, a word as vital to Rilke as it was to Kant and would be to Heidegger, but, as Mark Harman ruefully observes, “no more beautiful a word in German than it is in English.”

**) Ist schon 2 Jahre alt, aber Rilke ist ja noch viel älter…

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