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Another Idol, Toppled

When I was a teenage drama queen, among my friends, knowledge of Ranier Maria Rilke's poetry was a badge of honor. Like e.e. cummings, but better — it stood the test of time, wasn't over-read at weddings, and seemed to express something about the adolescent soul (which we all interpreted as the "artist's soul" at the time) that still matured with us. A couple of new translations, some youthful letters, and a new early biography later, and I'm not surprised to find that one of the reasons he spoke so directly to me as a teen was he had so many of those qualities himself:

Popular veneration and academic admiration persist despite the fact that Rilke in person was frequently vain, self-pitying, obsessive, narcissistic, snobbish, whining, arrogant, childish, demanding, lachrymose and neurotic, as well as being given to tantrums and panics.

I'm sure I exhibited all those qualities as an adolescent, minus the genius. Still — it's worth reading this review of the new Rilke materials if only to reminisce about your own vain days (and wish you had more talent for poetry, back then).



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