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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

!o8                  MODERN   GERMAN  LITERATURE

by irregularity that he should vary this pattern of six-foot lines
by shortening to five: 'Wer, wenn ich schriee, horte mich derm aus der
Engel | Qrdnungm? The rhythm is rarely fluent; and it is hard to
escape the conviction - confirmed by Rilke's letters from the
period of composition (the passage quoted hints at impotence
which cannot all have been due to the nightmare of the War) -
that they are the product of an exhausted mind. If the verse flows
like a clogged river, the sense too has to be recovered by diving
beneath the surface. It is only by battling hard with the Duino
Elegies and their 'tributary stream', the Sonnets to Orpheus, that we
realize where the irresistible magic of the New Poems lies - in the
sheer music of the verse. On the other hand it must be admitted
that there is a vital ripening of the poet's nursed ideas; and it may
be true that rhythm and language are with desperate ingenuity
devised to fit the other-worldliness of the themes - for the spirit
message a new spirit language and melody.

In the ist and the 2nd Elegies man and angel are contrasted.
If an angel took the poet to his heart the poet would perish. For
the beautiful is the beginning of the terrible, and every angel is
terrible. Where are the days of Tobias when an angel stood at a
simple threshold (Zttr Reise em wenig verkleidet und schon nuht mehr
furchtbar)'? The angels feel beauty and do not perish; we mortals
are consumed by beauty; it slackens us fire by fire. And they who
are beautiful perish: the divine flashes in their face and fades. If
we attain ourselves (that which in us is divine) it passes like the
morning dew on grass. We perfect ourselves, and die into matter;
but matter retains nothing of the perfume of our perfection. May
it be that this perfection we have striven for passes into the angels ?
If that were so, what we achieve of beauty is immortal (it exists
in the idea). Rilke's worship of angels is a reaction from his con-
tempt of the human body. Really it all comes to saying that the
human body is a horrible hindrance. But Rilke was a very sick
man when he wrote the Elegies - diseased physically, and obvi-
ously (with his Angstneurose] at the limits of sanity. His fear of
pain deprived him of a normal man's attitude to his body. To him
the body was the wretched mid-way thing in which world and
soul fought their pitiless battle - ca magic circle', he says, 'which
shuts me^in as in an Inferno by Breughel'. The body is Hell be-
cause, being possessed by the world (which to Rilke at this stage
meant physical suffering and the fear of it), it is beyond the reach