DIARIES OF A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke


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 The musings of a writer during his apprenticeship. Rilke (18751926) spent two and a half years, from 1898 to 1900, keeping a diary at the suggestion of his lover, Lou Andreas- SalomÇ. This intrinsically private work takes shape as an impassioned miscellany, including drafts of poems, gossip about Rilke's friends and acquaintances, direct observations of place, his reflections on art and architecture from the Renaissance to Rodin, and fictional tales. Mixed in with this stimulating hodgepodge is some blather. ``Every day is the beginning of life,'' exulted Rilke in 1900. ``Every life is the beginning of eternity.'' But the youthful Romantic could be witty as well as narcotically lyric. One of the diary's climactic moments comes as he commits to paper his adventure of trying to visit and impress Count Leo Tolstoy at the great man's country estate with Lou: ``A dog comes right up to us, trusting and friendly, as we stand there in front of the small glass door. I bend down to the white dog and as I straighten up again I see behind the glass, vague and distorted by the flaws of the pane, a pair of searching eyes in a small grizzled face. The door opens, lets You [Lou] in and slams sharply against me, so that I, only after the Count has already greeted You, come in and now also stand before him, feeling awkwardly large.'' Rilke's actual visual sense takes the measure of Florence evocatively: ``The ornamentation that nestles up against the columns is in the best instances unobtrusive and straightforward, a beautiful thought or a tender feeling elicited by the column.'' The poems included are languorously unfinished reveries, brimming with girls, flowers, and boyish, transcendent emotion. But Rilke was not always sacramentally poetic; even ``a dachsund with the demeanor of a sphinx'' could catch his eye and spur his sentences. Platitudes, poetry, and revelations for Rilke's many American admirers--translated for the first time into English. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04553-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997


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