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This article is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

Rilke Before Malte John Pilling

For most of us Rilke only becomes a figure of intense interest from about 1904, when he sits down in Rome to begin the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. The alien and alienating Paris of the opening pages of the Notebooks is so powerfully constituted that, in spite of the dark mood of the writer, he, too, seems on the point of being born. It is as if René - Rilke's given name, and the name he used until the late 1890s - is being buried once and for all, and as if, by way of Malte, Rainer Maria Rilke can begin to live as an independent, developed, articulated form. Before Malte, however, and difficult to retrieve in part because of Malte, Rilke had been writing for more than a decade. He had published, or compiled, nine collections of poetry: Life and Songs, Offerings to the Household Gods, Dreamcrowned, Advent, A Festival for Me, Visions of Christ, The Book of Images, The Book of Hours, and The Book of Pilgrimage. He had also written his autobiographical Ewald Tragy, a number of experimental plays, two Stories of Prague, and the Stories of God inspired largely by his second trip to Russia with Lou Andreas-Salomé. As an ancillary part of what was to become a lifelong quest for self-definition, Rilke had also maintained a vigorous and demanding correspondence with friends, which offered him the opportunity to construct and re-construct himself almost at will, in a manner at once mercurial and measured. ...

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