Duino Elegies/Duineser Elegien: A Dual-Language Book Rainer Maria Rilke 1923

Duino_ElegiesThis could be my longest review yet, there is so much to discuss here! This tiny book deals with huge issues, in fact it’s pages discuss life in all its many facets!

The Duino Elegies are a set of ten elegies written in German by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke from 1912 to 1922. Rilke had been visiting Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis in the Duino castle near Trieste in January 1912. During his visit she recounted that he had taken a stroll near the castle, along the steep cliffs that dropped down to the beach.

Rilke told later of hearing a voice calling to him as he walked near the cliffs, he used it’s words as the opening of the first elegy: ” Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?. Within a few days he produced the first two elegies and some fragments which would find their way into the others including the opening section of the tenth. After this, inspiration for the cycle stopped abruptly and could not be recaptured although he continued with other poetic drafts.

The completion of the elegies was delayed by Rilke’s battle with depression and also by the First World War which shook his beliefs and his way of life; The cycle was completed in February 1922.

Rilke was staying at the Muzot castle in the Rhone Valley, Switzerland. Rilke described the return of inspiration as “a savage creative storm”. I was recommended this book by my great friend Stephen Kalinich who sites it as one of his favourites I acn see why, though I had no expectations.. but isn’t it funny sometimes you find the right book at exactly the right moment!

To me this is a book to be savoured and looked back upon often, a kind of poets version of the ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’, it seems Rilke turns on its head a lot of our preconceptions of life, the first elegy, his insistence that we think not of death that is always ahead of us, but in fact to focus on the life we are leading at the moment, take in the little things that we take for granted, in the ninth elegy he states “ so show him something simple, something shaped by generation, by lives like our own, near at hand, within our sight. Tell him things. He will stand in amazement as you stood beside the rope maker in Rome or the potter by the Nile. Show how happy a thing can be, how innocent and how much ours”.

The elegy’s deal with all things, life, death, love, sexuality At the time of writing little was spoken of sexuality, Rilke talks of how this caught him unawares, and how it is such a need in men, more so than women. He deals with his notion in the fourth elegy that ‘human life is a not attuned to existence in the same way as animal and plant life, in the very fact that we know our destiny ‘we feel ourselves/ both wither and flower. The fifth elegy talks of a group of acrobats Rilke knew whilst living in Paris, the group was also immortalised in a painting by Picasso ‘la famille des saltimbanques’ see left.. Rilke asks what is it that drives the artist to create and to what end?  give this book a go but don’t rush it.. take it in and ponder its conclusions….

You can buy the book here

Duino Elegies & the Sonnets to Orpheus (Vintage International)

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