Rainer Maria Rilke was a lyric poet of genius, described by his contemporary Robert Musil as “having done nothing except be the first person to bring German poetry to perfection”. “Never before”, Musil claimed in 1927, has a poet achieved “such elevated and even tautness of expression, such gemlike stillness within never-ceasing movement”; his is a condition of “lofty endurance, wide-reaching openness, almost painful tension”. By the time of Rilke’s death, however, Musil regarded him as having turned into “a delicate, well-matured liqueur suitable for grown-up ladies”. Musil’s assessment, and indeed the language of his tribute, help to explain why C. P. Snow could treat Rilke virtually as a benchmark for obscurity in the 1950s, calling him “an extraordinarily esoteric, tangled and dubiously rewarding writer”. Nonetheless, he remains popular with a very disparate readership, “venerated like an upscale Khalil Gibran” (as George C. Schoolfield wryly observes), yet still the subject of a huge body of serious academic scholarship.
more from Robert Vilain at the TLS here.