A Poet Carves a Sculptor in Words ; Rilke Spent Almost Four Years Living with and Working for Rodin in Paris

Article excerpt

They were surely one of the oddest couples in 20th-century art: Auguste Rodin, the French sculptor, sixtyish and wildly famous, and Rainer Maria Rilke, the 26-year-old German poet, at the beginning of his career, who showed up on the sculptor's doorstep on a September afternoon just over a century ago to begin a monograph on the great man.

The monograph pleased the master, and led to an offer of lodging and employment for Rilke as the sculptor's secretary. The poet even took his Rodin show on the road, as a lecture delivered in Dresden and Prague. But then came a falling out; less than four years later, the younger man found himself "dismissed like a thieving servant."

However badly it ended, the time together did yield for Rilke two remarkable pieces of writing - the monograph and the lecture.

This volume comprises those two pieces, plus an introduction, in prose as rich as a fine pate, by William Gass, author of "Reading Rilke" and other books. Rilke illumines Rodin's creative process; he also sheds light on his own ideals of the artistic genius. Gass adds context and helps us read between the lines.

Up close and personal, Rilke had the opportunity to observe Rodin's immense artistic dedication - but also his tendency to get more than professionally involved with the women who modeled nude for him. Rilke's observations are wonderfully astute. Speaking of his drawings, he wrote, "Rodin assumed that if a model's most inconspicuous and unassuming movements were captured quickly, they would provide an unfamiliar intensity of expression, because we are not accustomed to observing them with keen, active attentiveness. …

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