Justin Evans's Reviews > Duino Elegies/The Sonnets of Orpheus

Duino Elegies/The Sonnets of Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke
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's review
Jan 03, 10

bookshelves: poetry-and-drama
Read in January, 2010

Probably the most infuriating book of poetry I've ever read, perhaps will ever read. The highs and lows are so dizzyingly high and so mind-numbingly, banally low that I couldn't always keep pace. The first and tenth elegies were high, the other elegies interesting and beautiful, if you can stomach the whole whiney little boy thing he falls into occasionally, and his affection for idiot-metaphysics ('Sein Aufgang ist Dasein' and so forth). Many of the sonnets, however, are appalling. Once Rilke ditches the generally critical stance of the elegies (complaints on injustice, suffering etc...) the idiot-metaphysics becomes overwhelming:

"Be - and at the same time know the implication of non-being...
to nature's whole supply of speechless, dumb,
and also used up things, the unspeakable sums,
rejoicing, add yourself and nullify the count."

Not to say there aren't great sonnets in there too, but my overall impression was one of disgust at this wonderful poet - what's more human than poetry? - wanting to become an object, thrilling in a mysticism of death. Add this to the apparent desire for a god to save us from the injustice and suffering so perfectly evoked in the elegies (uh... couldn't we save ourselves?), and my brain explodes. Because the whole thing is so beautiful, and at once so horrible, that there's nothing else for my brain to do.

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