Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

“Childhood” frequently appears in anthologies because of its highly accessible subject matter. However, very little criticism is available on the collection in which it originally appeared, The Book of Images. Although Rilke’s life and work in general has been subject to much criticism and reflection, little has been written about this collection.

His decision to live in a sort of permanent, self-imposed exile from his native land fueled his creativity as a poet. Much of Rilke’s work explodes with themes of solitude and loneliness, but is knotted tightly against imagery describing concrete objects. As Ulrich Fülleborn states in Rilke: The Alchemy of Alienation, "What was creatively possible for Rilke and modern literature in the face of social and intellectual contradiction is, therefore, universal 'relationship' as structure. This structure bridges the contrast of alienation and salvation without overcoming it; just as plain, complaint, and mourning are not 'overcome' but endured, although Rilke’s poetry attempts to realize an all-encompassing conceptual space of “celebration” as an affirmation of existence."

What is at the crux of Fülleborn’s argument is the essence that drives Rilke’s writings and, eventually, what draws others into his poems. The “relationship” that occurs between the social and the intellectual is a contrasting construct that drives art and philosophy away from industrialization and...

(The entire section is 360 words.)