Rilke, Modernism and Poetic Tradition

Rilke, Modernism and Poetic Tradition

Rilke, Modernism and Poetic Tradition

Rilke, Modernism and Poetic Tradition

Synopsis

Judith Ryan traces Rilke's development from aestheticism to modernism, paying special attention to the way his work engages with other poetry and the visual arts. Taking a skeptical view of Rilke's own myth of himself as a solitary genius, Ryan shows how deeply his writing is embedded in the culture of its day. Rilke is now the most widely-read and influential German-language poet, and this study is full of surprising discoveries about his innovative and often profoundly moving poems.

Excerpt

Rilke's earliest poetry is scarcely known to modern readers. Yet his beginnings not only reveal his conscious shaping of a poetic career, they show him absorbing and adapting multiple aspects of the culture around him. He had a good sense of the niches in which a beginning poet could lodge his work, from fashionable Viennese magazines to the souvenir shelf of Prague bookstores. From his emergence as a child prodigy, he situated himself within the framework of a progressively conceived 'feminine aesthetics' – today we would speak of an androgynous gender ideal – that was widely fashionable at the time and that continued to resonate throughout his works. His first volume of poems articulates a crisis of marginality common to artistic self-stylisation at the turn of the century. Far from being derivative, Rilke's early verses are in fact an attempt to disengage himself from the clutch of German poetic tradition. By giving his neo-Romanticism a slightly critical edge and thus underscoring his half-affectionate, half-alienated depictions of conventional scenes, Rilke implicitly declares his readiness to embark on a new kind of poetry.

Throughout his development, Rilke follows the cultural interests of his day. His almost seismographic response to fashion in every sense of the word lies at the heart of his early self-styling. He worked hard to attune his projects to current demand and 'package' his works to ensure their success. in the early years of the century, when his cousins discontinued the stipend he had been receiving from the inheritance of his uncle Jaroslav, he was entirely dependent upon what he earned through his writing. Only later, once he was under the wings of a distinguished publishing house, Insel, did he have more financial leeway in the form of advances for work in progress. By then he had also cultivated friendships with rich or well-to-do people who subsidised his . . .

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