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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

VII
RILKE

If the judgment of the most reputed critics is to be accepted the
greatest lyric poet of modern times in Germany, and one of the
very greatest writers in the whole history of German literature,
is RAINER MARIA RILKE (1875-1926). Rilke met Stefan George in
1897 in Berlin, but was never actually a member of the circle; and
though his technique is related to that of Stefan George this is
probably to be explained as common adhesion to a contemporary
reaction against naturalism and to imitation - which was in the
air - of the tonal devices of the French symbolists. Rilke himself
acknowledged primary discipleship to the Danish writer Jens
Peter Jacobsen and to Maeterlinck. Jacobsen's Niels Lyhne, Rilke
thought, might have been his own biography; and it taught him
to seek in nature sensuous equivalents of what was most delicate
and incomprehensible in himself. To Jacobsen, too, Rilke owed
his perception of the matter of poetry in whatever lay before his
eyes (^enitschaft %u unwdhkrischem Scbamn91}; while Maeterlinck's
early work (Le Tresor des Humbles] taught him that there is deeper
tragedy in the reality of everyday life than in the figments of
adventurous romance. These influences remained as the base of
his development, but there is no tangible evidence that George
added anything to the towering superstructure. Rilke was a mys-
tic, but with a mere inkling of what is mysticism to the philo-
sophers; he told Hermann Pongs that except for a few pages of
Schopenhauer he was unread in mysticism and philosophy. For his
meetings (1898-1900) with the Berlin philosopher Georg Simmel
see page 180. Later he read Plato and Bergson, and towards the
end of his life Juan de la Cruz. The great influences of his maturity
were impressions of travel, and above all the shaping of his con-
ception of God by his two visits to Russia and his Russian studies.
1 —Alle Dtnge sind poestereif*