The Poet & His Intriguing Muse

» I thought the book was about the Bohemian/Austrian poet » Rainer Maria Rilke ('ril-kuh, 1875-1926, a one-time associate of Rodin (who everybody knows is a creative giant who kicks much artistic ass).

Rilke is probably best known for writing » Letters to a Young Poet (.. which he never intended to be published).

Rainer Maria RilkeAnd it is (.. about Rilke). But it's written by Lou Andreas-Salomé, a fascinating woman in her own right.

She was Rilke's life-long friend & traveling companion. (Lou was 36 when they met, he only 21.)

A "grand dame" of her age. Accomplished. Not movie-star gorgeous, but skilled at coaxing art out of the artist. In other words » his muse.

Some women simply have a knack/gift for being a Muse. You probably know one yourself. 

[ Lou(ise) was born in Russia, St. Petersburg. Her father was a Russian army general.

She had 3 (or 5) older brothers, no sisters, which suggests she understood men. They had money. Her married pastor proposed marriage to her at age 17. (Yeah, you read that right. He had two kids at the time.)

She was one of the first female students admitted to the University of Zürich. Both Rilke & Lou met Tolstoy while visiting Russia together. The first time (for the first visit) Lou's 'husband' went along. (Yeah, you read that right, too.)

She wrote more than a dozen books, one of which is titled (in German) » Die Erotik, which suggests she was comfortable with her sexuality. Tho the book I'm reading makes it clear she preferred sexual abstinence in order to focus on pursuing intellectual ambitions.

One of her earlier books is titled » Searching for God. Rilke was her first lover (at age 36) .. after (after!) she'd been married to Friedrich Carl for 10 years. Interesting girl, no? ]

Lou Andreas-Salome» Is She the Reason Nietzsche Lost it?

Something about her drove men wild. We're talking about men who have since become icons. But what? What was it? What spell did she cast? And what did she see in the young Rilke? (.. other than youth)

She is the woman who Nietzsche had the hots for. "I lust after this kind of soul," he wrote.

And, "From which stars did we fall to meet each other here?" when he first met her.

Also » "She was prepared like none other for that part of my philosophy that has hardly yet been uttered."

But she rejected Nietzsche's proposals of marriage, and may (in retrospect) be one of the reasons Fritz went off the deep end later in life. (He badly wanted to make babies with her.)

Lou later wrote a book about her relationship with Nietzsche. She was 21 when they met and Nietzsche was well-known by then at 37. So it seems it wasnt long between the break-up and his first symptoms of insanity. (No, I dont know how long their relationship lasted. How long could any woman tolerate Nietzsche? A year or two max?)

That puts him at 38 or 39. I think he started coming unravelled at 43 or 44.

If we do the math .. we know he was born toward the end of '44. Add 37 to that for his age when he met Lou. That gives us » 1881/82. Add a couple of years for Nietzche to get acquainted with Lou, before crashing & burning.

That gives us 1883/84, which are the years he spent writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which I read somewhere that Nietzsche said was a substitute for the son he knew he would never have.

He finished Thus Spake in '85. 1888 was the last year he wrote anything. By January '89, they were coming for him with a white I-Love-Me jacket.

Instead, she married a guy named Frederick Carl Andreas, 16 years her senior, only because he threatened to kill himself if she didnt (.. he plunged a knife into his chest in her presence) .. with the stipulation she never be obliged to do the nasty with him. (Say what?!) He agreed! Their 40-year marriage remained unconsummated. (Cant make up this stuff, folks.)

••• today's entry continues here below •••

You Alone Are Real to Me, by Lou Andreas-Salome, about Rainer Maria RilkeContender for the Title » Greatest Poet (Ever!)

Like all poets, the ratings of Rilke fluctuate, but PoemHunter consistently rates him in the top-25 poets of all time .. of all languages (.. which include the likes of Shakespeare, Longfellow & my favorite » Tennyson) .. of the hundreds listed there.

I have seen him rated high as 14 and as low as 24.

Pablo Neruda (the Chilean poet) is the guy I see most often slated for that coveted top slot of » "World's Greatest Poet - Ever."

South Americans love their poets. Must be that hot Latin blood. (I dont know how PoemHunter ranks poets.) I know that Neruda was Che's favorite poet. Neruda is a pseudonym.

Rilke's Duino Elegies (du-'ee-no) for example, is said to "stand among the most sublime works of all time."

[ An elegy is a mournful poem. Duino is the name of the town on the Adriatic coast of northern Italy where Rilke wrote these poems .. the same place, by the way, where Boltzmann killed himself (.. cuz it was so beautiful there that he never wanted to leave). ]

* (note asterik) It became clear to me (tho not very quickly) that one of the greatest poets of all time .. was woo'ing one of the most interesting & alluring women. (Of all time.) And the book gives you a front-row seat. Very cool.

[ She also had a 'thing' with Freud (Mr. Anal Retentive himself) who called her the "smartest woman" he ever met, along with other luminaries such as the German composer Wagner. Not-insignificant people. And I'm sure she had an effect on countless other mere mortals .. that we dont even know about. ]

The Muses» She's What Made Rilke One of the Greatest

The book's subtext (tho never explicitly stated) » Rilke is one of the greatest poets ever .. because of her. She made him who he is. Obviously he had talent (.. or she never wouldve paid him any mind), but SHE is the real story here.

He was good, but she made him great .. one of the greatest. Ever. Maybe even *thee* greatest. Perhaps. He's certainly a contender for that crown .. however difficult it would be to fairly award.

Would be interesting to see what would've happened (to his popularity) had he written in English.

But writing in German (born Prague, Bohemia) is what makes him who he is. Always a fudge-factor involved whenever translations are involved. I avoided foreign lit for a long time .. cuz translated texts often read clunky.

Understanding the author can help interpret the intention behind the text. (That's why I'm trying to find out "what gives" with this guy, and his mysterious muse.)

The bigger problem, I feel, is the TIME difference. Not sure we 21st Century-ists can really understand what it was like to live back them. A hundred years ago. Maybe. But life doesnt happen in a vacuum, and that goes especially for poetry.

Die Erotik | Book by Lou Andreas Salome» Insights & Impressions

But it was really when I started reading the POEMS .. that Rilke wrote to her .. and glimpsed insights into the relationship they had .. that's when the magic started (for me).

Saw things I'd never seen before. Went places I'd never been before. Transported. Totally unexpected. Exhilarating. Tra-rippy.

First thing I noticed about Ms. Salomé, upon reading her (.. what she wrote about Rilke, the year after his death), was that she is an original thinker.

In other words, she puts forth thoughts and ideas I have never heard before. It quickly became clear that she » thinks for herself. That aspect really jumped out at me.

I mean, if you just consider the title of her book » You Alone Are Real to Me .. it suggests a charracterization of their relationship .. in a manner you're not likely to have heard before. No?

Also note that Nietzsche, Rilke & Freud are all considered original thinkers. (Whether or not you might agree with them is another matter entirely.)

The book (translated into English for the first time by Angela von der Lippe, a Sarah girl who has an Ivy doctorate in German Lit from Brown) seemed to suck me into a different world .. of poets and their courting of muses. Here's a sample quote for a taste:

Poets have always had their muses, and Rainer Maria Rilke was no exception. But Rilke's muse was different. She was more than the dark lady of poetic imagination who commands a netherworld of coy expectancy, defies apprehension by the senses, and ultimately inhabits the fluid shadows of genius ..

.. she [Lou] assumed the qualities so often attributed to the poet's muse. Embodying that strange mixture of dominant mother and submissive mistress, she both set a critical standard for Rilke's craftsmanship, and coaxed the passionate abandon that inspired breakthroughs in his work. She was pursued as inspiration and hearkened to as critic and editor.

Angela van der LippeAngela is not the best writer. (Or maybe her editor took a hands-off approach.) She unnecessarily complicates the text, as, I guess, you might expect from an Ivy league academic. So you kinda have to translate her (the translator) as you read.

Im talking about what she wrote in English about Salome's text. Her 25-page intro. Parts of her prose seem to strive for poetic aspirations, which is difficult to pull off, cuz the reader is reading in (expecting) prose mode.

My hunch is that she was writing her prose from poetry-world, which is certainly understandable, given the subject matter. But Lou's translated text itself reads fine, and that's really what this book is all about. ■

Update - I have gone back and reread. I may have been harsh. I feel she may be writing from a position of bridging the gap .. between reader & poet .. rather than merely writing from a reader's point of view, telling us what lieth in Rilke's poet-land.

FYI - This guy (DME) actually does a good job of injecting poetic flair into his prose. Subtle.

PS - Jonathan was the one who suggested I read Rilke (» Book of Images). I run into him (& Jessica, his wife, newlyweds) at the coffee shop from time to time. (Not often enough.)

He knows more about literature than anyone I've met. Tho he doesnt seem inclined to share what he knows without me first prying. Dostoevsky is his favorite, who happens to be the only author to place four titles on the World Library's list of the 100 Best Books of All Time (.. in any language).

Update - Along these lines, here's a title sent in by a reader » The Lives of the Muses and the Artists They Inspired, which includes Lou Andreas-Salomé. (Check out the cover on the hardback.) ■■

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » rainer maria rilke poet lou andreas-salome muse

As a techie, geeky aside, here's a post about the new Adobe's Muse (.. a website creation tool).

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This page contains a single entry by Rad published on August 13, 2011 8:13 AM.

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