Still reading Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. I think I first read it as sophomore in college, 1971 or so. It made a strong impression.

Around that time there was, I seem to recall, quite a Rilke vogue. I got annoyed with some of his portentous poetique mannerisms, how they chimed with 70s New-Ageyness, literary "spirituality". (People my age might remember what I'm talking about.)

But this was all just Rilke in American pop translation.

He was drawn to Russia & Russian poets (friend & correspondent with Tsvetaeva, who hero-worshipped him).

& I'm just being superficial, journalistic myself here.

Rilke offers a suave, cultivated, aristocratic image : but there's a clear hardness and independence to his writing too. A sort of old-fashioned 19th-cent. stoic "peasant" awareness of the facts of life and death.

In Malte he dwells on poverty and suffering. Sometimes it seems unflinching, sometimes it veers toward the edge of literary voyeurism (slumming), but mostly it offers a stream of eloquent sympathy, compassion. (Many passages in Malte should be required reading in medical or nursing school.) Bearing witness to the gradual moldering of strange old European culture, the imminent end of a certain historical era.

No comments: