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Lesley Chamberlain

Since his death in 1926, almost a century ago, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke has remained an anomaly. He was doomed, Lesley Chamberlain says in Rilke: The last inward man, to be a poet ‘in between’: a bridge between modernism and Romanticism, his work an inevitably compromised attempt to reclaim the consolations of metaphysics for a secular age. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – Rilke’s poetry has remained enduringly popular. There are dozens of translations of his notoriously complex poetry into English, and a plethora of critical writing, some of it leaning into a sentimentalised hagiography that is too easily parodied. In Reading Rilke: Reflections on the problems of translation (1999), William H. Gass perhaps best catches the ambivalence one feels approaching the man and his work:

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