Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The rich symbolic content and specific themes that characterize Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous lyrics also inform his narrative prose. Recollections of his boyhood and youth are given romantic, fairy-tale coloring in Vom lieben Gott und Anderes (1900; republished as Geschichten vom lieben Gott, 1904; Stories of God, 1931, 1963), a cycle of short tales that replace traditional Christian perceptions of God with depictions of a finically careful artist. Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (1906; The Tale of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke, 1932), a terse yet beautifully written story, is more like an epic poem than a prose work, especially in its emphasis on the power of the individual word and its intensely rhythmic language. The psychologically intricate novel Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (1910; The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1930; also known as The Journal of My Other Self) is one of Rilke’s most profound creations. Written from the point of view of a young Danish nobleman living in exile in Paris, it offers in random sketches a peculiar summation of the central concerns of the author’s literary art.

In the decade between 1894 and 1904, Rilke wrote more than twenty plays, many of which were lost and never published. The most important of his remaining theatrical works are either pessimistically Naturalistic or intense dramas of the soul. Jetzt und in der Stunde unseres Absterbens (pr., pb. 1896; Now and in the Hour of Our Death, 1979) and Im Frühfrost (pr., pb. 1897; Early Frost, 1979) reflect the influence of Rudolf Christoph Jenny in their materialistic determinism, while later pieces such as Höhenluft (wr. 1897, pr. 1969; Air at High Altitude, 1979) and Ohne Gegenwart (pb. 1898; Not Present, 1979) document a development in the direction of Symbolism, motivated especially by the dramatic theories of Maurice Maeterlinck. Rilke’s best-remembered play is Die weiss Fürstin (pb. 1929; The White Princess, 1979), which in its lyric depth and power illustrates his view that drama and poetry have similar goals.

Apart from his writings in other genres, Rilke also produced a few works of nonfiction. Most notable among these are the biographical study Auguste Rodin (1903; English translation, 1919) and the descriptive lyric essays of Worpswede (1903). Much of his extensive correspondence has been collected and published. Especially important for what they reveal of his artistic personality and poetic process are volumes of letters exchanged with Lou Andreas-Salomé and Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis.