Oops! Wow, I can’t believe I forgot to include the two books of Rilke in translation that I read on my list of books read from 2009. This is a serious omission, since 2009 was the year that I finally really discovered Rilke.
If you’re interested in what I have to say about those books, I’ve added my thoughts to the post, and you can click through to see what I had to say. But for here, I’ll just say that I came to Rilke because of a conversation I had recalling a few lines from one of the letters in his famous Letters to a Young Poet. I’d tried reading some small collection of Rilke’s verse ages ago, and the mistake was that what I read was a scattering of uncollected verse. Whatever it was I read, it didn’t strike me as all that spectacular, and I shuffled Rilke into the pile of poets in whom I had no interest.
Then, I picked up a copy of the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, and I was blown away. Maybe it depends on the translation — this one by A. Poulin Jr., though, is spectacular.
While traveling in the United States, I also picked up an unfortunately abridged translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours, and unfortunate as the abridgement is, I once again found myself in the presence of a poetical force to be reckoned with. Having tried to write a book of hours myself once, I can testify to the difficulty of this open-ended form, and I was impressed with what Rilke did with it.
Rilke is, make no mistake, a constant and convinced theist. It is odd that his texts, so infused with his religious convictions, should strike me as they do, but with Rilke, you take the man’s work as it is, rather than as you would have it be, for there are moments and passages of such insight, genius, and beauty that you find the idea of quarreling with the man’s work something bordering on ingratitude.
I’m thinking of writing something with a character loosely based on Rilke, some poet-in-exile wandering a fantastical world, writing love-letters and trying to fit in among the clockwork artisans and dog-headed shamans o. I probably won’t write it the way it sits in my head, bordering on plotlessness unless the love of his life collapsing in a series of letters, amid his wanderings in strange, harsh, and beautiful lands, counts as a plot. But we’ll see: for now, I have a copy of a book of his letters to Andreas-Salome, which awaits on my desk back in Korea. I’ll finish that off — I started it in 2009, but did not finish it — and also dig into a short collection of his fiction that I got in New York, and then I’ll see whether I’m moved to write a pseudo-Rilkean fantasy novel later.