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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

RILKE                                         171

anruhren wie die tiande imer Alagd. . , :
mnn ich ein Jahr noch also leben soll>
so werj icb mich nach dkse??/ einen Jahre
einem Eedienten in den \Veg me toll
undfleh ibn any dass er mir das erspare.

The influence of Maeterlinck appears too in several of the short
tales (collected in 1928 as Er^ahltwgen aits der Fruh^eif). Rilke as a
German Czech gives us in Zn*ei Prager Gescbicbten (i 899) the atmos-
phere of Prague, sketches the life of its literary cafes, and links the
discussions of acting and literature to a student conspiracy against
the Austrian Government* The neo-romanticism of the day lends
a thrill to Luisa, a hysterical erotic creature who has visions of
Julius Caesar, the illegitimate son of Kaiser Rudolf II, hunting
women as a ghost in a castle: one of her hallucinations is very fine
as a prose passage. The eleven stories collected in Am 'Leben bin
(1898) mark Rilke's desertion of naturalism for symbolism. The
characters pass along eon the rim of life'; like HofmannsthaPs
Claudio they miss life because of their lack of ideal love: only
those live the life of the spirit who have been cured of reality by
illness or some infirmity. The formative influence is that of J. P.
Jacobsen: from him Rilke has learned to build up a total psycho-
logical interpretation from a cumulation of impressions or rather
apercus - of life as it presents itself to the dispassionate observer,
with physical and mental decay and death in the forefront. One is
reminded of the Spanish vignettes of Azorin; the difference is that
while Azorin in his quite ordinary moods and happenings shows
the poetry of landscape and environment and the haunting tragedy
of decay Rilke limns his types with a surprising analytical cruelty
and probes with a grim curiosity. There might have been great
possibilities of a new fiction in this style if he had continued it; or
it might have shaped him to a kind of intellectualized Dickens;
and it is only by holding this tentative work against that of his
maturity that we can realize the growth of his mind. At the same
time the comparison shows that he was by nature lacking in warm
humanity; the apparent pity for poverty in his later work was
obviously of the aesthetic type. In this early work he is outside
the life he observes but on a level with it, while later he sees it
from above and transfigured by the 'distance' which for him be-
came the necessary condition of poetry. There is both literary and