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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

X84                    MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

compose it but because - as Rilke learned from Van Gogh and
Cezanne - his mission only begins when he has risen above the
need of love. The book is simply Rilke in search of himself. But
also in search of God. And the two quests are really the same, for
Rilke's God is only his own perfected personality. This constitutes
a sort of realism, in spite of all the nebulousness: the mysticism is
realistic because it is the inner illumination of a 'thing', a pathetic
human being. But this light that burns inwards burns outwards
too: there is throughout the book an irradiation of five main
themes - the great city, poverty, childhood, love, and death

Critically regarded, Die Auf^eichnungen des Malte Laurids Erigge
is probably over-estimated in the present craze for Rilke: it is
actually to be classified as yet another misbirth of that cult of dis-
ease which gave us Maeterlinck's Serres Chaudes and Verhaeren's
trilogy of disease (from which Les Vilks tentaculaires is an escape)
Les Sows, Les Debacles., Les Flambeaux noirs. In this book Rilke is
rather a decadent than an expressionist. What there is of expres-
sionist doctrine lies in the slow building up of the theory that
death is the consummation of life, not in the sense of dissolution,
but of perfection. Life ripens (or should ripen) round the fruit
which grows from the inborn germ of death. The doctrine is per-
haps no more than a mystic deepening of the doctrine of perfect-
ing in the Wdungsroman^ quickened with something of a Christian
leaven - life is a preparation for the beyond; the difference is that
Rilke projects the vision of fitness for death, not life - the aim
and desire of man should be to ripen, to be mellow, and then to
fall, richly coloured and rounded, like the apple to the grass: here
is at least sweetness before putrition.

Very subtle in this book is Rilke's handling of the theme of
love. With the interpretation of Sappho as the great exemplar is
interwoven an interpretation of Lesbian love as an interruption
of the temporal purpose of sex by its eternal intention: that the
lover borne to the couch by the weaker beloved should be the inner
glow of selfless love transformed from beloved to lover. Some of
Rilke's most penetrating interpretations are those of women who
have loved deeply and in vain, the figures of the Heroides, and
added to them his own particular discoveries - among them the
Portuguese nun whose letters he was to translate (p. 205); women
whose determined hearts were willing 'to fulfil love to the utter-
most*. And the fruit of death as the perfection of life is attained by