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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

THE UNREGARDED RILKE Rainer Maria Rilke, An Unofficial Rilke: Poems 1912-1926, tr. Michael Hamburger (Anvil) £3.95

This selection is based on poems Rilke wrote during his last fourteen years, and is limited furthermore to those which the poet himself left unpublished during his lifetime. Most readers would agree with Michael Hamburger, I suspect, that many of these poems qualify as only minor verse. All the same, a number of them-'Solang du Selbstgeworfnes fängst . . .' and 'Handinneres' for instance-have found their way into many German anthologies. It is not surprising that Rilke should have rejected them from his own canon. To me, the sheer verbal power and persuasion that characterise many of the poems of his contemporary Georg Trakl, for example, are missing. Alone among the major poets of his generation, Rilke makes no mention of the Great War. This seems to corroborate what Stephen Spender once called Rilke's 'style of thinking which has become removed at some points from nature'. The general impression of the earlier of these poems is one of diluted Hölderlin speaking with the voice of a suffering but embarrassingly pretentious poet.

The most interesting poem in this collection is 'Wendung', which suggests that Rilke was sufficiently aware of these shortcomings but not sufficiently willing, or able, to overcome them. The first stanza is clearly modelled on Hölderlin's 'Abbitte':


Oder er anschaute knieend,
und seines Instands Duft
machte ein Göttliches müd,
dass es ihm lächelte schlafend.


This is not only laboured rhythmically and composed in a rather ...


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