The Rilke Alphabet

The Rilke Alphabet

The Rilke Alphabet

The Rilke Alphabet

Synopsis

Ulrich Baer's The Rilke Alphabet will surprise and delight established fans of Rilke, intrigue newcomers, and convince all readers of the power of poetry to penetrate the mysteries and confusion of our world.The enduring power of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry rests with his claim that all we need for a better life on earth is already given to us, in the here and now. In twenty-six engaging and accessible essays, Ulrich Baer's The Rilke Alphabet examines this promise by one of the greatest poets in anytradition that even the smallest overlooked word may unlock life's mysteries to us.Fueled by an unebbing passion and indeed love for Rilke's poetry, Baer examines twenty-six words that are not only unexpected but also problematic, controversial, and even scandalous in Rilke's work. In twenty-six mesmerizing essays that eschew jargon and teutonic learnedness for the pleasures andrisks of unflinchingly engaging with a great artist's genius, Baer sheds new light on Rilke's politics, his creative process, and his deepest and enduring thoughts about life, art, politics, sexuality, love, and death.The Rilke Alphabet shows how Rilke's work provides an uncannily apt guide to life even in our vexingly postmodern condition. Whether it is a love letter to frogs, a problematic brief infatuation with Mussolini, a sustained reflection on the Buddha, the evasion of the influence of powerfulprecursors, or the unambiguous assertion that freedom must be lived in order to be known, Rilke's writings pull us deeply into life.Baer's decades-long engagement with Rilke as a scholar, translator, and editor of Rilke's writings allows him to reveal unique aspects of Rilke's work. The Rilke Alphabet will surprise and delight Rilke fans, intrigue newcomers to his work, and deepen every reader's sense of the power of poetry topenetrate the mysteries and confusions of our world.

Excerpt

“DIKTAT DES DASEINS”

The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and
transcribe the whole dictation of existence [das ganze Diktat des
Daseins
] up to its end, for it might just be the case that only
the very last sentence contains that small and possibly
inconspicuous word which transforms into magnificent sense
everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed
to understand.

Rilke wrote these words to Ilse Erdmann on December 21, 1913, close to the end of a year during which he had met Sigmund Freud in person, spent more time with Lou Andreas-Salomé, and drafted a poem that he would not complete for another decade as the first of the Duino elegies. By writing down “the whole dictation of existence,” Rilke hopes to register those experiences that we normally go through without noticing. Do not overlook anything, pay attention to everything, spell it all out up to the most minuscule and negligible word and letter: That is Rilke’s aesthetic motto and his guide for life. In order not to miss anything or get distracted in the task of living mindfully and honestly, the poet must not decide in advance between important and unimportant things. He has to write in the conviction that each experience and every word possesses a value all its own.

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