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Poems to Night (Pushkin Collection)

by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Poems to Night is the first time Rilke's Night poems have been published in their entirety, translated in English. In 1916, Rilke presented his friend and fellow writer Rudolph Kassner the twenty-two poems in a handwritten notebook.

Rilke wrote the poems between January 1913 and February 1914, during the same time he was working on the Duino Elegies, which has been my favorite volume of poetry for over forty years. And of the elegies, the eighth is my favorite; it was dedicated to Kassner.

In the Introduction, Will Stone confesses that the Poems to Night "possess the aura of a clandestine text, and resist any assured interpretation."

Which is a great relief to me, baffled as I have been by these verses. Each reading further reveals the arc of Rilke's vision, how the poems reflect his basic understanding. The experience of being human and finite, and aware of the vast mystery beyond, is the bedrock of Rilke's poetry.

I read the Poems of Night, and read them again. I reread portions of Rilke's biography and a fiction novel of his life to understand Rilke at the time he wrote these poems.

Rilke arouses feelings in me, with certain lines flashing out like neon, and yet to understand his meaning seems to always hover beyond my full grasp. I struggle with the poems, eliciting more from the lines with every reading. His poetry is so unique to his own world view.

There is the theme of alienation, how humans can never fully connect. And how humans are concerned with the temporal and trivial, "seduced" by the world. Above the world is night, the realm of angels, a sacred otherness which we long to encounter and yet "renounce."

The ending lines are powerful.

Lifting one's eyes from the book, from the close and countable lines, to the consummate night outside: O how the compressed feelings scatter like stars, as if a posy of blooms were untied...Everywhere craving for connection and nowhere desire, world too much and earth enough. (Paris, February 1914)~from Poems to Night by Rainer Maria Rilke
Drafts of the Night poems are also presented, along with snippets from his other works that include the theme of Night, and biographical notes on Rilke's life. He was abroad when WWI broke out, unable to return to his Paris apartment. He lost all his manuscripts, books, and personal belongings, including photographs of his family. When he presented the notebook of poems to Kassner, he was in the military working as a clerk.

Poems to Night is a significant addition to Rilke's published works that will interest his legion of readers as well as all lovers of poetry.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased. ( )
  nancyadair | Feb 14, 2021 |
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