|Rilke in Meudon, Rodin's studio and residence.|
Photographer: anonymous. Museé Rodin
Rilke first approached Rodin while writing a booklength essay on the sculptor. For more on that book and details on their relationship, see the links at the AYWR blog. Rilke spent much time with Rodin and in correspondence with him and worked as his personal secretary for a year or so. And his wife, Clara Westhoff, was a sculptress and had been a student of Rodin's.
In the second letter of his highly celebrated Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke wrote:
What was the source of the famous sculptor's powerful hold on the fledgling German poet? Apart from artistic and philosophical considerations, some have seen personality factors at work here, primarily in Rilke's attraction to character traits of Rodin's that he admired and perhaps wished to emulate. Kent Nerburn, in his foreword to the New World Library edition of the Letters quoted above, writes:
"If I were obliged to tell you who taught me to experience something of the essence of creativity, the depth of it and its enduring quality, there are only two names that I can name: that of Jacobsen, the very greatest of writers, and Auguste Rodin, the sculptor. No one among all artists living today compares with them."
|Rodin, 1911. Photo: Edward J. Steichen|
Please click on the photo to enlarge.
They don't get much better than this.
Contrasted to this was Rilke, the fragile, often sickly young man of delicate sensibilities and uncertain artistic direction, who suffered long periods of artistic aridity and terrifying self-doubt. Slim, slight, easily led astray from his artistic tasks, he lived in constant fear of days when all inspiration failed him and he was left with nothing but 'dead words …corpse heavy'. How could he not stand in the presence of Rodin without seeing before him the embodiment of all he desired to be as an artist, as well as a mirror of all his own artistic deficiencies and insecurities? And, in fact, this is exactly what happened. In the person of Rodin, Rilke found the model for the artistic authority he wished to possess."
And this is how Rilke described his first meeting with Rodin in a letter to his wife Clara on September 2, 1902:
|Painting by Gerolf Van de Perre. Visit this Belgian artist's|
beautiful series of Rilke paintings.
As this is getting fairly lengthy, and I have just learned I am making an unexpected but welcome weekend getaway to the hills, I will cut off this post here and continue in Part II in a few days. Have a nice weekend everyone ... and read your Rilke. We are enjoying it immensely and very heartened by the warm enthusiasm with which many of you have been reading, commenting and participating in the venture.