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Transformation of Language and Religion in Rainer Maria Rilke

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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 Two: Translation of “The Letter of the Young Worker” 153

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Appendix Two Translation of “The Letter of the Young Worker” [The comparison with Gertrude Craig Houston’s translation of the text—to be found in Rilke, Selected Works. Volume 1: Prose, 67–77—was very helpful for my own rendition. I have borrowed several of Craig Houston’s felicitous phrases.] The Letter of the Young Worker (Feb 12–15, 1922) (SW 6: 1111–27) Last Thursday in a meeting, someone read to us from your poems. Mr. V., it’s continually on my mind; I cannot help myself, but have to write down for you everything I am thinking about, write it down as well as I can. The day after the reading I found myself by chance amidst a Christian congregation, and maybe this event was the actual thrust which caused the ignition that is generating so much movement and pressure that I am steering towards you with all my force. It is an incredibly violent endeavor to begin something. I cannot begin. I simply leap over that which should be the begin- ning. Nothing is so powerful as silence. If each of us were not already born into speech, it would never have been broken. Mr. V., I am not speaking of the evening when we received your poetry. I am speaking of the other one. It drives me to exclaim: Who, yes—I cannot express it otherwise now, who then is this Christ, who imposes himself on everything.—Who knew nothing about us, nothing of our work, nothing of our...

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