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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Rilke and Things Idris Parry
When I first heard about Rilke, many years ago, one of the things that impressed me was the way he packed his suitcase. I read in some learned work that when he went on his travels (and he travelled a lot) he put everything in his bag as carefully as he structured his poems. I suppose I remember this because I had never thought before of the arrangement of shirts and socks as an aspect of artistic endeavour. But of course it sums him up. It was characteristic. For Rilke nothing was trivial, and order was to be found, and had to be found, in all things.

I’m going to begin by being rather daring, even impertinent. I’m going to assume ignorance: I’m going to assume you are ignorant, I mean: I assumed my own ignorance long ago. The best thing about ignorance is that it makes life so much more interesting. There must be one person here who has never heard of Rilke or isn’t quite certain who or when or what he was.

Rainer Maria Rilke was borne in Prague in 1875. He died in Switzerland in 1926, December to December, so he was just fifty-one when he died. About the turn of the century, he married a sculptor called Clara Westhoff from the artists’ colony at Worpswede near Bremen. She had been a pupil of Rodin. Rilke published some prose works and several collections of poems. The best-known are two longish cycles called The Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus. The Elegies take ...


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