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Life of a Poet is devoted to the careful reenactment of the difficult relationship between Rilke's life and his art. In this outstanding biography, Ralph Freedman traces Rilke's extraordinary career by combining detailed accounts of salient episodes from the poet's restless life with an intimate reading of the verse and prose that refract them. A master of the word, Rilke sought to capture and emulate the colors and forms of painters like Cezanne and sculptors like Rodin. A brilliant poet in German, he also wrote in Russian and Italian, and late in life even sought recognition as a poet in French. These contrary impulses left their mark on Rilke's verse and lent it a unique resonance, which Life of a Poet conveys as a biography and as a work of criticism. In this portrait of the artist par excellence, Freedman reveals how Rilke lived out the very process of the poetic imagination by transforming the self that he did so much to project. His poetry transformed his intimate self, not only in self-reflection but also in his relations with others: with lovers and friends like Lou Andreas-Salome and Paula Modersohn-Becker, with maternal patronesses from the highest society like the Princess von Thurn und Taxis, and with prominent intellectuals like Paul Valery, Andre Gide, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Stefan Zweig during the decades that saw the profound change in society and culture from la belle epoque to the Weimar Republic. Rilke absorbed and reshaped the tensions around him in his evolving work. Life of a Poet shows how this multifaceted, multilingual artist developed from a versifier consumed by ambition to become one of this century's greatest poets - Europe's and the West's"representative man."
Northwestern University Press
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