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This review is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.

LEARNING TO DIE ERIC TORGERSEN, Dear Friend: Rainer Maria Rilke and Paula Modersohn-Becker (Northwestern University Press) £19.99
JOHN FELSTONE, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew (Yale University Press) £22.50

'So, people do come here to live, then; I'd have thought, rather, that one died here'. Thus Rilke, the 'here' being Paris, beginning his Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and remembering his arrival in the French capital in the autumn of 1902. He had been elated at having come within Rodin's ambit, and he was forever after to endorse the sculptor's doctrine of work and patience. But he had come from the seclusion of an artist's colony to the harsher life of the metropolis, the sick and the ill who made every other building look like a hospital, with the military hospital of the Val de Grâce the type and measure of them all; he had already begun to see his childhood years at the St Pölten military academy as a barely survivable ordeal. It is at the sight of a child sleeping with its mouth open that Rilke/Malte realizes: 'The chief thing was to keep on living. That was the chief thing'. He was on the way to asking 'Who talks of victory?' and deciding: 'To endure is all'. Yet it was in the September of 1902, having been in Paris only a few days, that Rilke wrote, within ten days of each other, two of the poems that, among many, would bring him victory in poetry: 'Autumn Day' and 'Autumn', both to be collected in the second section of the first part of the revised Book of Images (Das Buch der Bilder) of 1906. In the last ...


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