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Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke Hardcover – February, 1996

3.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Combining empathetic insight into the poet's life with intimate understanding of the poet's work, exhaustive research with a storyteller's flair, Freedman creates portraits of the young Rilke living out the poetic imagination, an older Rilke realizing his calling as one of the century's greatest poetic visionaries,culminating in such works as the Duino Elegies and Letters to a Young Poet.

From Publishers Weekly

Freedman, emeritus professor of comparative literature at Princeton and author of a biography of Hermann Hesse, notes in this thorough and thoughtful study of Rilke that he will follow "this tortured man" as he evolves from "a versifier consumed by ambition to one of the great poets of our time." He delivers on half that promise, by bringing to life the ambitious versifier far more successfully than he does the great poet. Rilke was born into a German-speaking family in Prague in 1875 and soon developed a pattern of illness-real and imagined-that persisted for the rest of his life. Other defining traits include a fawning pursuit of aristocrats (usually female), infatuations with Russia and Italy, intense love affairs (usually preceded by letter-writing campaigns) that ended in six months and a fondness for the company of artists rather than writers. He was, briefly, Rodin's secretary in Paris, and his wife-whom he soon abandoned, along with their daughter-was also a sculptor. Other familiar figures who appear are Andre Gide, Eleanora Duse and Franz Werfel. Readers will probably find Rilke unappealing, but Freedman skillfully reveals the various myths and personas the poet created about himself and perhaps even believed, and shows how in his masterpiece, The Duino Elegies, he shaped them into a new aesthetic "vision." Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 639 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st edition (February 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374186901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374186906
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,519,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Some biographers get inside the spiritual life of their subjects and are able to capture its intimate movements in such a way that the life takes on a magical coherence and wholeness. Others, less sympathetically endowed, are content to record external circumstances and events, with perhaps some brief overtures toward explaining inner motives and passions. One would think a poet of Rilke's fierce inwardness demands primarily the former form of biography - and he does - but the latter form also offers some interesting insights, especially for readers who might be unfamiliar with the milieu he lived and worked in. This biography is very much in the latter camp. Freedman's prose suffers from frequent bouts of groaningly bad academese ("His words adumbrate the divine tension between Word and World" - yuck!), but his narrative does give the imaginative reader some purchase on the shaping forces behind many of Rilke's most powerful works. The last few hundred pages are something of a slog since you know that felicitous insights into Rilke's inner life (and there are some) will be consistently overwhelmed by a rather distant-sounding reportage of his travels, housing troubles, and publishing concerns. For a poet whose mission was to transform external vicissitude into internal truth... the effect is something like viewing a postcard of a church. Rilke was notorious for flooding his lovers with passion before withdrawing from their intimacy, and in a way Freedman, who never really seems to get under Rilke's skin (although it it is clear he would like to), takes his place among those spurned souls.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a sprawling, lazy account. It was moderately useful as a complement to Donald Prater's far more concentrated 'A ringing glass', but if I hadn't read that book first I wouldn't have formed much of a picture of Rilke's life. There are a few interesting stories found here which don't appear in the other book, but on the whole it is totally inferior.
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Format: Paperback
This biography sensitively and thoroughly investigates the life of Rilke. We follow not only his life's events, but his intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and poetic development, all of which are closely intertwined. Freedman himself writes the tale so well--it is a pleasure to read! The book features plenty of photographs of Rilke, his family and friends. Rilke was a complicated and troubled man, but the wonder is seeing how out of such human frailties arose a transcendent body of work.
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Format: Paperback
Freedman does an outstanding job of chronicling the life of Rilke without an over-analytical style that so often plagues other artistic biographies. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Rilke, the most important German-language poet since Goethe.
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