A collection of never-before-published letters by the renowned poet.
“What can you say in the face of loss, when words seem too frail and ordinary to communicate our grief and soothe the pain?” asks translator and editor Baer (German and Comparative Literature/New York Univ.; We Are But a Moment, 2017, etc.). The letters included in this brief but dense collection grapple with this crucial question. Taken from correspondences that Rilke had with friends, relatives, and acquaintances in light of the deaths of various individuals, these letters provide a space for ruminations and a careful study of our relationship to death. In each letter, Rilke addresses the death of the person in question, but he also uses it as a steppingstone to offer his own perspective on the ways in which humans are conditioned to die: “I think that the spirit cannot make itself so small that it concerns nothing but our existence in the here and now: Where it rushes toward us, we are both the living and the death.” More interestingly, the letters offer windows into daily life between 1908 and 1925, pointing out the many mundane events that punctuated Rilke’s life—e.g., a spa treatment he received—as well as the emotional toll his poetry was taking on his letter-writing abilities. Though these letters are an important contribution to Rilke’s archive, they don’t offer enough context for general readers to truly latch onto them. For those knowledgeable about Rilke’s work, these letters will serve as fresh reading material, new modes of understanding his practice, and demonstrations of his thinking about writing and existence (“we have been tasked with nothing as unconditionally as learning on a daily basis how to die”). But for those just now discovering his work, the letters might serve as a disservice to the colossal beauty of his poetry.
A slim, mildly intriguing glimpse into Rilke’s daily life.