Given the poetic style in which he wrote, it is not surprising that numerous poets have been drawn to Nietzsche, including Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). He, like many writers influenced by Nietzsche, rejected the kind of traditional Christian dualism which sorts existence into good and evil with the physical and earthly being regarded as a source of evil and goodness identified with pure spirit and the life after death. His celebration of mortal life as a sort of religion is extremely Nietzschean.
Rainer Maria Rilke seems -- extraordinarily for so lyrical a poet -- to have been an unmusical man. He didn't play an instrument or frequent concerts; composers didn't inspire him as Cezanne and Rodin did; he made the acquaintance of Busoni but nothing came of it. He must be unique among German intellectual figures of his day in having had nothing substantive to say, even in passing, about the phenomenon of Wagner.
The ["Sonnets to Orpheus"] come from Rilke's last burst of creative activity. Around the beginning of World War I, after two decades of impressive productivity and ever-growing artistic stature, the poet struck an impasse. In 1912, amid much emotional suffering, he had conceived at Duino, Italy, the plan for a large series of elegies, more ambitious and freer in form than anything he had yet done.
Rilke drifted into Rodin's orbit like a straw moving into a whirlpool. First, he married Rodin's student. The marriage soon ended. Maybe Rilke loved Rodin's art better than he loved Rodin's student. Then a German publisher commissioned him to write Rodin's biography. So he packed off to Paris to meet his hero. In 1903 Rilke finished the biography
Rilke became Rodin's secretary. Later he moved in with him. Rilke's towering poetry stands free of Rodin. Yet Rodin is there -- this silent man, completely committed to excellence.
[When he arrived to write a monograph on Rodin], Rilke, fastidious and recently married, was equipped with only halting French; Rodin, unable to read Rilke's lyrical German, was an imperious 62, his creative drive matched only by his skill at seducing the women who posed nude for him.
Adopting the rapturous tone of a new disciple, Rilke finds in Rodin's sculpture much of his own ideal of the solitary genius -- ''sheltered behind the efforts that sustained him'' and ''filled with the animating burden of his vast knowledge.'' But he may be closer to the mark, as the evocative photographs suggest, in portraying Rodin as a keen student of the flesh. In such works as ''The Caryatid'' and ''The Kiss,'' Rilke observes, ''faces were extinguished and bodies came into their own.''
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) is one the leading poets of European modernism, comparable in importance and influence with American-born T. S. Eliot and the French poet Paul Valéry. Arguably the greatest German poet of the twentieth century, his influence nevertheless extends far beyond poetry and far beyond Germany. His work has been important in philosophy, religion and the visual arts. Despite being famously ‘difficult’, his work continues to attract new readerships and is regularly translated and re-translated, into Japanese, Chinese and Arabic as well as the European languages.
Some have found Rilke's view of the world unpalatable and, especially after 1945, his elitism and otherworldliness was met with profound scepticism. Rilke found himself rejected by left-wing critics in the west and in the socialist regimes in the east including the German Democratic Republic. The scathing allegories of modern life; the praise for a self-negating kind of intransitive love (which did not preclude treating some of his many female admirers notably badly); the brooding on death; the aristocratic insistence on the magisterial role of the poet: all these seem precisely to devalue the ordinary human reality upon which the poems claim to insist. There is some truth in all of these charges.
Rainer Maria Rilke was one of Germany's most inportant poets. His influences include the paintings of the Worpswedders and the French Impressionists, the sculpture of Rodin (to whom he was both friend and secretary), and the poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme and other symbolists. His poetry is innovative, enigmatic, and entertainingly idiosyncratic.
Written with astonishing rapidity in two weeks of February, 1922, when Rilke was finally completing the Duino Elegies that had occupied him intermittently for a decade, Sonnets to Orpheus is a series of fifty-five brilliant and affirmative songs. It is in a sense a spontaneous creative dividend generated by a larger work. Because the sonnets were written only four years before Rilke's death, they belong properly to his final and philosophic period.
Pynchon's novel is strung between these first lines of the "Duino Elegies" and the last: "And we, who have always thought of happiness as climbing or ascending would feel the emotion that almost startles when a happy thing falls." In Rilke, the "happy thing" is a sign of rebirth amidst the dead calm of winter: a "catkin" hanging from an empty hazel tree or the "rain that falls on the dark earth in early spring." In "Gravity's Rainbow" the "happy thing" that falls is a rocket like the one Blicero has launched toward London in the first pages of the book or the one also launched by Blicero that falls on the reader in the last words of the last page.