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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

RILKE                                             *5

complete self-surrender in love; for which reason (a very mystical
and favourite idea of Rilke's) while to be loved is merely to be
consumed - in other words a neutral process, feeding merely sel-
fishness and stunting the soul - to love for love's sake is illumin-
ation. Think of the troubadours who feared nothing so much as
to be granted their desire! This apparent excess of love and self-
surrender is, in Rilke's doctrine, the new measure of love and
sorrow: sorrow must fade into love and be one with it. Rilke
gives, as one of his quaint marginal glosses to what is assumed to
be an unshaped autobiographical fragment, his famous definition
of love: - To be loved is to be consumed. To love is to shine with
oil that cannot be exhausted. To be loved is to perish, to love is
to endure. Only by the power of this enduring love can the heart
attain direct contact with God. The story of the Prodigal Son is
the legend of one who fled from being loved; and in this interpre-
tation of the Bible story no doubt we have again an explanation
of Rilke's separation from his wife and his eternal homelessness:
he would be alone and love, even the filth of life; but he would
not have the richness of his loneliness diminished by even the love
of a dog. Slowly he learns to illumine what he loves with the rays
of his feeling so that it be not consumed with it, until through the
ever more transparent shape of what is loved the vast Beyond
opens out in the rapture of possession. To be alone is to be a
buccaneer or a condottiere or Saint George slaying the dragon.
And this is the consecration of what to the outside view was
Rilke's life of utter poverty and misery: he chose to be a prodigal
son that he might live the heroic life. But the new meaning he
gives to the parable of the prodigal son is more than personal.
Applied to the divine, the doctrine that to love is all and that
there is no enhancement in being loved results in Rilke's famous
definition: 'God is a direction given to love, not its object'; that
God will return this love is not to be feared, and God denies us
His love in order that our heart may fulfil itself to the last limit.
There is nothing mystical in the love experience of Die Wezse
vonLiebe undToddes Cornets Cbristoph RJlke-, but, though it was not
published till 1906, it was written in 1899, in Rilke's period of full
mysticism. The ultimate theme might be briefly defined in film
language as 'one night of love'. But no one who has read the poem
- an expanded and lyricized ballad - will wonder that young offi-
cers had it with them to read in the trenches. The source is an old