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Transformation of Language and Religion in Rainer Maria Rilke


Johannes Wich-Schwarz

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), perhaps the most famous European poet of the twentieth century, exemplifies how the «crisis of language» inherent in literary Modernism also constitutes a crisis of religious discourse. In Rilke’s poetry and prose, language replaces God as the focal point of human experience. Yet despite his rejection of Christianity, Rilke crucially draws on Christian imagery to express his Modernist worldview. Transformation of Language and Religion in Rainer Maria Rilke offers new readings of major texts such as The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and The Duino Elegies, as well as analyzing some of Rilke’s lesser-known works, Visions of Christ and «The Letter of the Young Worker.»


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Epilogue 120


Epilogue We dream of traveling through the universe: but isn’t the universe inside us? We do not know the depths of our mind.—Inwards leads the mysterious path. In us, or nowhere, resides eternity with its worlds, the past and the future. —Novalis R: What’s the matter? T: Please tell us. For a while now, you’ve been awfully quiet. R: Don’t run away! Tell us what’s wrong! L: Words. T: Excuse me? R: What did you expect? Aren’t you relieved to see that language has become possible again? That words of praise are possible. Something divine can be expressed in language. Or maybe language itself is proof for the existence of the divine. T: But you’re never satisfied, are you? L: I don’t dare to speak of the sacred stillness inside me. R: But not all words are destructive. Maybe they are when they attempt to describe the world within us. But language is more than description. It can be like breathing. God, or whatever word you want to use for the sacred, is nothing set and unchanging. Like our breath, our words can create the divine in every living moment. T: And like our breath, language is always there, and we don’t need to be afraid of it. L: And silence? R: I believe it is part of the whole. T: There is no separation. No separation between self and world, between life and death, between language and silence. They are one and the same. L: No separation? T:...

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