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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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Appendix One: Translation of Visions of Christ 121


Appendix One Translation of Visions of Christ [In Siegfried Mandel’s edition of Visions of Christ, Aaron Kramer has provided an English translation that imitates the rhyme form of the original German. In my translation, I have not made an attempt to replicate Rilke’s poetic form; instead, I have striven to provide as literal a translation as possible. Titles in angle brackets are not by Rilke; they were added by Ernst Zinn in his edition of the cycle.] Christ: Eleven Visions (1896/98) (SW 3: 129–69) First Series (1896/1897) THE ORPHAN They wandered away. It was a cheap funeral,— last rate. No bell did toll. The little girl mused: mother was ill for a long time, for years the room was her prison. They All said today: thank God— she is set free.—but the little girl trembled from an unexplainable fate. Yes, and what now? They have buried her. Dear God, see how hard the damp mound there is from rubble and stones. 10 And yet mother was used to linen as soft bed. And she begins to weep. Why have they bedded her so poorly? Why lower into dull, black soil that which has its clear home in heaven?— Heaven! That must be a fairy-tale city with golden cupolas and white alleys; only light and love is up there—incredible, 122 Transformation of Language and Religion in Rainer Maria Rilke and no one there is sad and forsaken, and everything is blissful singing. 20 A star is a toy...

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