You are on page 1of 23

Nietzsche and Rilke Author(s): Walter Kaufman Source: The Kenyon Review, Vol. 17, No.

1 (Winter, 1955), pp. 1-22 Published by: Kenyon College Stable URL:

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http:// JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Kenyon College is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Kenyon Review.



No. I

Walter Kaufman


THIS STUDYof Nietzscheand Rilke,and particularly of
what they have in common,is meant to throw light on both and also on the relationof philosophy and poetry.To those who are used to comparisons of Nietzsche with Nero and of Rilke with St. Francisany insistenceon common elementswill come as a surprise; but it may also disabusethem of some misapprehensions. There are, of course,obviousdifferences between the two men; and it is unlikelythat an extendedcontrast would prove illuminating.Some reflection on what they have in common, on the other hand, may help us more to understand the relationof poetryto philosophy than the customary juxtaposition of Dante and St. Thomas-as atypicala pair as one is likely to find: Thomas,with his dogmaticcommitments, is utterlyunlike any Greekor modernphilosopher; the Divine Comedyis unlike any other poem; and Dante'srelationto Thomas is unlike that of any othermajorpoetandphilosopher. Shakespeare and Seneca, whom T. S. Eliot juxtaposes not without sarcasm, could hardly be more disparate-in time, stature,or sensibility. Nietzscheand Rilke, on the other hand, furnish a nearly ideal pair. Probably the greatestGermanphilosopher they are, respectively, and poet of the last hundredyears:they wrote in the same languageand belong roughlyto the same age. Two furtherfactsmake it strangethat comparisons have not become a commonplacelong ago, especially in view of the


vast literaturethat has accumulatedaround both men. First, if as yet very ill digested, Nietzsche'sinfluenceis very apparent, in some of Rilke'sjuvenilia.And secondly,both men loved the same woman-probably more than any other. Nietzsche loved Lou Salomein I882 when she was barelyover twenty,and she his listened to his innermostideas without quite reciprocating feelings. Their relation was short-livedbut intense, and their his first break and Nietzsche'ssubsequentsolitudeprecipitated in a single majorwork, attemptto develophis whole philosophy When Rilke met her fifteenyearslater,in I897, his Zarathustra. Nietzschewas slowly dying; he was known the world over;Lou herself had recentlypublisheda book about him; and she was was not. She was marriedto maturewhile Rilke, at twenty-two, Andreasbut becameRilke'smistress, traveled with him, Professor and their love was complete. There is no need, however, for making a juxtaposition biographical: the only data requiredwill be found in the work of the two men, and the emphasiswill fall on Rilke's poems in my own transwhich will be cited, like all other quotations, only insofaras that which lation.' Nietzschewill be introduced Rilke'spoems expresshappensto be very close to the spirit of Nietzsche'swork. The questionof influenceshall not detainus. My approachdiffers almost equally from the distinctive criticalmethodsof the igth and the 20th Century.If igth Century literarycriticismhas concerneditself too much with his1. All the Nietzsche quotations are from The Portable Nietzsche, selected and translated, with an introduction, prefaces, and notes, by Walter Kaufmann, The Viking Press 1954, except for the poem in section VI which is taken from my Nietzsche, Princeton University Press 1950. My Rilke translations are published here for the first time. No single German edition contains all the original texts: the two volumes of Ausgewadhlte Werke contain important items not included in the earlier six-volume edition of Gesammclte Werke; and the same is true of the two-volume and six-volume editions of the letters. Quitc a number of poems, moreover, are available only in small separatevolumes. The last poem in the present essay, for example, is to be found only in Briefwechsel mit Erika Mitterer. All of these books are published by the Insel-Verlag. With the only previous extended juxtaposition-Erich Heller's chapter on "Rilke and Nietzsche"I deal in detail in another essay, in Partisan Review.


considerations torical and biographical which lead beyond the the "new" of which has studiedworks withwork art, criticism, out externalreference,has rarelygot beyond formal considerations. I proposeto focus attentionon the contents of Rilke's poems, on the experiences which they communicate, but without trivializingthem biographically. II Rilke's earlier poems are often underestimated by those who admirehis Duino Elegies and Sonnetsto Orpheus, especially by those intent on finding a philosophyin these often obscurelater works. But much can be said in favor of beginningwith three pre-Duinopoems which are short enough to be quoted without omissionand simple enough to requireno commentary. Moreover, they are among Rilke'sbest.
The Song of the Idiot They do not hinder me. They let me go. They say, nothing could happeneven so. How good. Nothing can happen. Everything revolvesengrossed always around the Holy Ghost, around a certainghost (you know)how good. No, one should really not suppose that there is any danger in those. There's of course the blood. The blood is the hardestthing. The blood is a chore, sometimesI think I can't any more. (How good.) Look at that ball, isn't it fairred and round as an everywhere. Good you createdthe ball. Whether it comes when we call


How oddly all things seem to humor somc whim, they flock together,apart they swim, friendly and just a little dim; how good.

doesnot comThis poemfromDas Buch der Bildercertainly nor even any belief.It does not develop municateany philosophy which are but proceedslargelyby free associations any argument are frequentlysuggestedby rhymes;and unrhymedtranslations into himself projects poet The inadequate. particularly therefore an irrationalstreamof conthe mind of an idiot and recreates And yet little is needed to transformthis poem into sciousness. position:merelythe claim that the world reallyis a philosophic as it appearsto the idiot. This, of course,Rilke neithersays nor of similarprojections implies;and the poem is partof a sequence sad, statesof mind. into sane, if invariably Even so the inclusionof this themeand Rilke'ssuccesswith it invite the reflectionthat perhapshe does not feel too sure of of the world, and that a pOetwith a firm belief the rationality in a purposiveworld-orderwould have been very much less likely to write such a poem. Surely,the same might be said of Faulkner'sThe Sound and the Fury. But what is true of the novelistwho forcesus to see the world from the point of view to a lyric poet who idiot is perhapsless applicable of a castrated dependson differentmoods almostas much as a dramatist. The next poem comesfrom the first part of Neuc Gedichte and is one of Rilke'smost perfect.
The Panther In the Jardindes Plantes, Paris His glance, worn by the passingof the bars, has grown so weary it has lost its hold. It seems to him, there are a thousandbars, and then behind a thousandbars no world.

The soft gait of the supple, forceful paces revolving in a circle almost nil, is like a dance of power that embraces a core containing, dazed, a mighty will. Rarely the pupil's curtain, soundlessly, is raised-and then an image enters him, goes through the silent tension of the limbsand in his heart ceases to be.

Again, nothing is asserted:no belief, no truth, no philosophy. And again it takes only a single additionalline to transforma perfectpoem into a doubtfulphilosophy;namely: this is a portraitof the humancondition.Rilke'shistorical and geographical proximity to Kafka may suggest that this addition would be entirelyin his spirit,but this is exceedingly doubtful. Why should not the poet who projectshimself into an orphan,the Buddha, a prisoner, a woman'sfate, Orpheus,Eurydice,and Hermes (all three in turn), the birth of Venus, Leda, and countlessothers, projecthimself also into the mood of those who feel more or less perpetually like Kafka? A poem can illustrate a philosophy insofaras the philosophy itself is a metaphysical projection of an experience, a mood, an attitude.The poet may know this mood as one among many or as the dominantexperience of his own life; he may enter into it as a virtuosoor be trappedin it; he may illustratethe same philosophyover and over again or bring to life many, whether as a tourde forceor as an unwittingrecordof his own rangeof experience; and he may be quite unawareof the fact that others have converted such experiences into philosophies. The third poem, from the secondpart of Neuc Gedichte,is more direct than the other two. The poet no longer projects himself into an idiot or an animal but, as in most of his later work, seems to speakfor himself.

Archaic Torso of Apollo


We did not know his high, unheardof head where his eyes' apples ripened. Yet his torso has retainedtheir glowing as a candelabrumwhere his vision, not yet dead, only turned low, still shines. For else the breast could not blind you, nor could we still discern the smile that wandersin the loins' faint turn to that core which once carriedmanhood'screst. Else would this stone, disfiguredand too small, stand mute under the shoulders'lucid fall and not gleam like a great cat's skin, and not burst out of all its contours,bright as a great star: there is no spot that does not see you. You must change your life.

of a philosophy, this sonnetas an illustration If one considers it must be a very differentphilosophyfrom that of the two earlierpoems: no longer Kafka but Sartre,no longer nihilism but a call for a decision. Both philosophies,however, can be found in the work of Nietzsche,too, and in the same sequence as in Rilke. is, afterall, qualiby "The Panther" The nihilismillustrated fied by the suggestionthat life is justifiedonly as an aesthetic of Nietzsche's phenomenon-and this is one of the key sentences first book, The Birth of Tragedy.It would surelybe false to say this attitude,but enough that all of Rilke'searlypoemsillustrate the claimthat the feelingabout of the bestof them do to warrant the world which Nietzsche formulatedin this way was one without any specialfeat of which Rilke knew, too, first-hand, imagination. is Torso of Apollo" this early aestheticism In the "Archaic of the Greeks is expericnced but the achievement transcended, Nietzschean manner. The neverthelessin a characteristically


mere contrast betweenclassical antiquityand our own paltriness is, of course,too common to establishany strong parallel: to mention a single outstandingexample,it is one of the central motifs of Joyce'sUlysses. But Rilke, like Nietzsche, does not react with resignation,irony, or humor, leave alone romantic To him the archaictorsois a work of art and a human nostalgia. achievement ratherthan a symbol of an irretrievable past; and thereforehe experiences it not only as a reproach but also as a challengeand a promise.His attitudeis that of Nietzschein his thirdbook,On the Advantageand Disadvantage of Historyfor Life, whereit is urgedthatbesidesthe outlookof the antiquarian and that of the critic of the past there is, thirdly, the "monumentalistic" attitude. Rilke'spoemmay be takenas an illustration of this attitudewhich, as it happens,neither he nor Nietzsche ever relinquished. We have no right, to be sure,to infer from "Archaic Torso of Apollo"that Rilke maintained a particular positionor identified himself permanently with certainideas. What the sonnet, takenby itself,showsis only thatRilkeknew a certainexperience which some other people,notablyNietzsche,have had, too. But what I shall try to show next is that Rilke communicated in his poetry quite a number of experienceswhich are far from common and rarelyencountered in the work of other poets or philosophers-exceptNietzsche. And I shall begin with four interrelated motifswhich areequallycharacteristic of, and central i, the work of both men. Here are certainfundamental experienceswhich inspiredboth a philosopher and a poet, to be transmuted by each in accordance with his distinctivegenius. III What Rilke has in common with Nietzsche is, first of all, his experienceof his own historicalsituation.In his seventhelegy he formulatesit in terms no less applicableto Nietzsche than to himself:


of the worldknowsthe disinherited Everybrutcinversion and not yet the futurc. to whomthe pastno longerbelongs,

For most men their historicalsituationposes no problem;they are not even aware of it. It did not occur to Aristotlethat the foreverunder world of the Greek city states was disappearing for all eternity.Kant his very eyes. St. Thomasbuilt confidently hoped that his Critiqueof Pure Reasonwould enable men at Hegel was the long last to find the realtruthwithin two decades. posiwith any keen senseof his historical firstgreatphilosopher tion, and he saw himselfas the heir of threethousandyears.He of the past,and his refusalto specufelt securein his possession late about the future went hand in hand with the feeling that for him. Goethe'sattitudc the pastand the presentwere sufficient was simllar. In the courseof the i9th Centurysome writersfound their relation to the past almost as troubled as their situation in the present.Marx is an outstandingexample; but, denied the escapeinto the past,he fled into an equallyimaginary romantics' futurewhich he thoughthe could foreseeand which he believed and even belongedto him. He still had a faith in a world-order a kind of moral providence. for all his profoundlycriticalattitudetoward Kierkegaard, past and present,was a man of faith; and so was Dostoevski, insight was uncloudedby any illusion. though his psychological Rilke'stwo lines apply to Nietzscheas to no other equallyoutstandingfigure before him. Exactlythe same is true of the following four lines from which suggestthe secondgreatcommonmotif and Stundenbuch could be inscribedover Nietzsche'swork no less than Rilke's:
I believe in everythingunsaid still. My most pious feelings I want to set free. What no man has yet dared to will shall one day be instinctivewith me.


For those "to whom the past no longerbelongs,and not yet the future,"piety cannot mean what it once meant. The peculiar piety of Nietzsche and Rilke does not consist in any reverent acceptanceof some tradition,but rather in a rejectionof all and in the resolveto be open that has hardenedinto stereotypes, and ready for their own individualcall. Without believing in any god, they feel that if only they will be entirelyreceptive they will be addressed personallyand experiencea necessity,a duty, a destinywhich will be just theirsand nobodyelse's,but no less their duty than any categorical imperative. What Nietzsche and Rilke want is a new honesty,and the sin againstthe spiritis for them the essentiallyinsincereescape values and cliches.What is old cannot be altointo traditional gether adequatenow, for me, in an unprecedented situation.It is honestythat demandswhat is still unsaid.Honestyis the new piety. Rilke speaksfor Nietzsche, too, when he says in his first elegy "thatwe are not very reliablyat home in the interpreted world."Most men, of course,are; and William Jamesfrankly insistedon the importanceof feeling at home im the universe. But what is for Jamesa legitimateapproachto piety, is ruled out for Nietzsche and Rilke preciselyby their piety: their new honesty does not permit any such security;their new piety involvesan opennessfor experiences which explodeour customary interpretations. They refuse to reducean experienceor insight to fit it into a preconceived schemeof things. What is involvedin this disdainfor securityis statedbeautifully in one of Rilke's letters (April 12, i923); and what he as the centralinspiration of his elegiesand sonnets here describes may be consideredthe third great common motif of his work "Whoever and Nietzsche's. does not affirmat some time or other with a definite resolve-yes, jubilateat-the terribleness of life, nevertakespossession of the unutterable powersof our existence; he merely walks at the edge; and when the decision is made



cventually,he will have been neitherone of the living nor one and bliss,these of the dead.To show the identityof terribleness two faces of the same divine head-indeed, of this single face that merely looks this way or that, dependingon the distance from which, or the mood in which, we perceiveit-that is the essentialmeaningand conceptof my two books." refusedto do: he Here the poet does what Goethescornfully his greatestpoetic statesthe "idea"of what he himselfconsiders work. But if we reflecton Goethe'swords to Eckermann(May "Theycome and ask me 6, 1827), thereis no real disagreement: what idea I sought to embodyin my Faust. As if I knew . . . that myself! . . . Indeed, that would have been a fine thing, . . . life . . . upon had I wantedto stringsuch a rich, variegated the meagre threadof a single . . . ideal It was altogethernot of something my manneras a poet to strivefor the embodiment round out and but do anything I did have to not abstract.... . . . so that others artistically form such visionsand impressions would receive the same impressionswhen hearing or reading what I presented." Rilke's "essentialmeaning and concept"could hardly be called the meagre thread of a single idea, nor is it anything of life. In his experience It is his vision and impression abstract. and bliss of life are as a single face that merely the terribleness looks this way or that dependingon his distancefrom it or his mood. It is only by walking at the edge and seekingshelterthat he can escapethe terrorof existence;but that meansinevitably On the that no blissis left either,only the balanceof mediocrity. other hand, when he plunges into life, exposinghimself to the fortune,the veryintensityof his slings and arrowsof outrageous sufferingfills him with ecstasy. From this point of view, the Christianmartyrsdeserveadmiration as men who did not walk at the edge. The young Nictzsche consideredartist, saint, and philosopherthe highest types of humanity and always retained some feeling for the



ascetic.He might well have agreed with Rilke's statement,in the letter alreadycited: "I have often said to myself that this was the urge or (if it is permittedto say so) the holy cunning of the martyrsthat they cravedto put behind themselvespain, the most terriblepain, the excessof all pain-that which otherwise distributes itselfunforeseeably over a whole life and mingles with its momentsin smallor largerdosesof physical and spiritual of sufferingat once, to suffering-to evoke this whole possibility conjure it up so that afterwards,after one has weatheredit, there might be only bliss." Although he does not walk at the edge, the martyr,too, seeks security. Far from choosing the precariouslife which Nietzsche and Rilke elect, he throws away life to buy safety beyond.What separates Nietzsche and Rilke from the martyrs is ultimately-and this is the fourth great common motif-their completerepudiationof otherworldiness. This is not only of the essenceof Rilke'spoetrybut also the main theme of his last major prose work, "The Letter of the YoungWorkingman," writtenin February I922, duringthe very days when he also wrote the elegies and sonnets.The fourteen pages of this protest against Christianity do not only breathc Nietzsche'sspiritbut echo particular passagesin his books.It is hardto believethat Rilke shouldnot have been conscious of this; but whetherhe recognized them or not, it is interesting that such passagesshould have come to his mind while he wrote the elegies and sonnets. "Do not forevercompelus to fall back into the distressand melancholythat it cost him, as you say, to 'redeem' us. Let us at long last be redeemed."Comparethis with Zarathustra's dis. course"On Priests": ". . . melancholy. They would have to sing better songs for me to have faith in their Redeemer:and his discipleswould have to look more redeemedl" And the famous passageon CesareBorgianear the end of Nietzsche'sAntichrist is certainlythe model for this contrast: "Evenwithin the church,



indeed in its very crown, this world exactedits abundance and its native overflow.Why is the church not praisedfor having been so sturdythat it did not collapseunder the weight of the vitalityof certainpopes whose throneswere heavy with bastard children,courtesans, and murders?Was there not more Christianityin them thanin the aridrestorers of the Gospels-namely, somethingliving, inexorable, transmuted?" I recall the culmination of Nietzsche'spassage:"But lifel But the triumphof life! But the great Yes to all high, beautiful,audaciousthings! And Lutherrestoredthe church:he attackedit." Some other parallelsmay be fully accountedfor by the basically similarattitudes of bothmen; for example, the preference for the Old Testamentover the New and the great indictment of the Christian attitudetowardsex. What is most significant in on the theme but the any case is not the numberof variations centralmotif of radicaloppositionto otherworldliness. And this is statedin "The Letterof the Young Workingman" not only in "Onthe the spiritbut even in the style of Zarathustra's discourse Afterworldly":
What madness, to distract us to a beyond, when we are surroundedright here by tasks and expectations and futuresl What fraud, to purloin images of earthlyraptureto sell them to heavenbehind our backsl Oh, it is high time for the impoverishedearth to claim back all those loans which have been raised on her bliss to furnish some over-future I

Rilke acceptsZarathustra's challenge to remain faithful to the earth;and his earth,like Nietzsche's,is not that of literary or realismany more than the Victorianor romantic naturalism world or the universeof scienceor religion. It is an ecstatically world alive with all the glory of the mystics'God. experienced In a letter (February 22, I923), Rilke recallshow he once used to speak of God and adds: "Now you would hardlyever hear are taken away from God, me refer to him.... His attributes and returnto the creation." the no longer utterable,



IV If ever there was Dionysian poetry in Nietzsche's sensepoetry that celebrates life with all its agony, verse that praises sufferingas part of the passionof existence-it is found in the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus.For that matter, Rilke knew of coursethat the featuresof Orpheusand Dionysus blend ever in Greeklegend; and the myth of Dionysus'martyrdom and rebirth,which is crucialfor Nietzsche'sconception, is relatedof Orpheusas well.
Dionysus versus "the CrucifiedOne": there you have the contrast. It is not martyrdomthat constitutesthe difference-only here it has two differentsenses.... The problemis that of the meaning of suffering: whether a Christian meaning or a tragic meaning. In the first case, it is supposedto be the path to a sacred existence;in the second case, existenceis consideredsacredenough to justify even a tremendous amount of suffering. . . . The god on the cross is a curse on life, a pointerto seek redemptionfrom it; Dionysus cut to piecesis a promise of life: it is eternallyreborn and comes back from destruction.

In this passage from The Will to Power we can substitute "Orpheus" for "Dionysus" without the least change in meaning. Nietzsche thought that this joyous affirmation of life with all its pain could be found in Greek tragedy.Certainly, for all the influenceof the Greekson classicalGermanpoetry,it could not be found in Goetheor Schiller.In Faust,to be sure,Goethe portrayeda man who cravesthe agony and bliss of the whole race, preferringthe totalityof experience,if there were such a thing, to the drabdust of a merelyacademicexistence;but any love of the presentmoment,any boundlessaffirmation of it, any wish to hold on to it, is preciselywhat Faust cannotunderstand. In fact, he cannot distinguishit from Philistinesloth. Even in his final speech he tells the moment to abide only becausehe enjoys his anticipation of an imaginaryfuture which is, moreover-and the poet takes pains to underscorethis-utterly at



odds with reality. Goethe, unlike his Faust, knew a completelyun-Philistine appreciationof the moment, especially in his old age; but althoughNietzsche,near the end of The Twilight of the Idols, celebrated Goethe'sattitudeas the incarnation of a "Dionysian" faith, the affirmation of Goethe's"It be as it may, It was, oh, so fair"seemssereneratherthan ecstatic.Here is resignation rather thanrapture, peaceratherthanpassion, even a touchof wearimess. Nietzsche fuses Goethe's radical this-worldliness with the genuine joy of Schiller'sfamous hymn which looks forwardto anotherworld:
Suffer bravely,myriadsl Suffer for the bettcr worldl Up above the firmament A great God will give rewards.

Generally, Schiller's attitudewas not one of otherworldliness but of heroic defiance of suffering.The Dionysian affirmation of "DrunkenSong" strikesa new note: Zarathustra's
Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? 0 my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled,ensnared,enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you said, "You please me, happiness! Abidc, momentl"then you wanted all back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled, ensnared,enamored-oh, then you loved the world. Eternalones, love it eternallyand evermore;and to woe too, you say: go, but returnl For all joy wants-eternity.... What does joy not want? It is thirstier,more cordial, hungrier,more terrible,more secret than all woe; it wants itself, it bites into itself, the ring's will strivesin it; it wants love, it wants hatred,it is overrich,gives, throws away, begs that one might take it, thanksthe taker,it would like to be hated; so rich is joy that it thirsts for woe, for hell, for hatred,for disgrace, for the cripple,for world-this world, oh, you know it!

This feeling is significantlydifferentfrom the romantics' of the lust of sufferingand the voluptuous occasional celebration delight of agony.Novalis,for example,celebrates pain as a fore-



taste of death becausehe hates life. Altogether,the romantics' praiseof sufferingis, most typically, a repudiation of the present, akin to their escapeinto the past or the future:it is, at bottom, praiseof anotherworld or of a briefecstasywhich, while it lasts, lifts the poet out of this world. Nietzsche'sattitudeis not found in Germanliterature, if indeedin any literature, beforehim; but it is the centralmood of Rilke'selegiesand sonnets. In this mood the four motifswhich we have statedseparately are fused into a single experience:Nietzsche and Rilke, "to whom the past no longer belongs, and not yet the future," develop a new piety which denies them the securityof any traditionas well as any escapefrom the terrorof life, including even the ancienthope for bliss in anotherlife; but their radical affirmation of this worldwith all its agonybecomesan experience of ecstaticbliss. V A glance at one elegy and one sonnet may show how some apparently strikingdifferences betweenNietzsche and Rilke are merely superficial. "Why,"Rilke asks at the beginning of his ninth elegy, "have to be human?" And he answers:"because being here is much"and then explains:
Once everything, only once. Once and no more. And we, too, once. Never again. But having been this once, even though only once: having been on earth does not seem revokable.

On the face of it, this is the veryoppositeof Nietzsche'sdoctrine of the eternalrecurrence of the same events. But if we understand this doctrineas the metaphysical projectionof the feeling expressedin the words we have quoted from "The Drunken Song,"we see that the centralexperience of Nietzscheand Rilke is the same.What Rilke'semphatic"once"is meant to rule out



but a beyond; and what he, like is not an eternal recurrence is this world. A few lines later, Nietzsche, affirmsrapturously Rilke exclaims-and this is surelythe epitomeof "The Drunken Song": "Would love to hold on to all forever." One can, of course, pose philosophicalpuzzles about the fair to subject the theoretical eternalrecurrence, and it is.perfectly Some scrutinyand criticism. explication of a mood to theoretical objections,however,rest on a psychologicalmisunderstanding, have paid a failure to grasp the centralexperience. Interpreters discourse "On insufficientattention to Zarathustra's opening The Three Metamorphoses" in which the highest stage in the of the spiritis represented by the child.One possible development attitudetowardthe eternalrecurrence and particularly important nor speculative but rather of the sameeventsis neithermoralistic a child'swish to like a child'sdelight in a merry-go-round--or have a story it likes repeatedagain and again and again. The other great apparentdifferencebetweenNietzscheand to angels in the elegies.InRilke is suggestedby the references steadof examiningall these passagesin an effortto understand what exactlyRilke may have meant,it will sufficeto cite a letter Rilke wrote during the last year of his life, NovemberI3, I925. and plainly intendedby It was written to his Polish translator the poet as a majordocument.He explainshow he wants to be understood:"Not in the Christiansense (from which I move but in a purelyearthly, deeply awaymoreand morepassionately) earthly,blissfullyearthly"sense. And again:
By making the mistake of applyingCatholicconceptionsof death, of the beyond, and of eternity to the elegies or sonnets, one moves away completelyfrom their point of departureand becomesinvolved in an ever more thorough misunderstanding.The "angel" of the elegies has nothing to do with the angel of the Christian heaven (sooner with the angelic figures of Islam). The angel of the elegies is of the visible into the invisthe creaturein whom that transformation ible at which we work appearscompleted.



In otherwords,he is the imageor incarnation of the accomplishment of our striving,and his featuresthus merge with those of Nietzsche'sUebermensch. In his discourse"On Poets"Zarathustra says: "all gods are poets' parables,poets' prevarications. Verily, it always lifts us higher-specifically,to the realm of the clouds: upon these we place our motley bastardsand call them gods and overmen." In Rilke, gods and angels are indeed mere poets' parablesand In the third sonnet,for example, actuallyused interchangeably. a god appearswhere the elegies would have introducedan angel, and Nietzsche the overman:
A god can do it. But how can one follow, mere man, oh, tell me, through the narrow art? Man's sense is discord.Where ways of the heart are crossing stands no temple for Apollo. Song, as you teach it, does not reachnor yearn, nor does it woo what is at last attained; song is existence.For the god, unstrained. But when do we exist? When will he turn, to help us to exist, the earth and sky? It is not this, youth, that you love, although your voice then opens up your lips-oh, try forgetting that you ever sang. That flees. Singing in truth is breaththat does not flow. An aimlessbreath.Flight in the god. A breeze.

In some translations the last word is renderedas "gale."But what Rilke exaltshere is precisely the absenceof any storm;and even if it is granted that god, angel, overman,Orpheus,and Dionysus become indistinguishable at this point, this lack of strainmay seem to establish a markeddifference with Nietzsche who is generallyheld to have conceiveda more ferociousideal. In fact, however,Zarathustra follows up his discourse"On SelfOvercoming" with one "On Those Who are Sublime"; and this



I do not like these tense souls.... If he grew tired of his sublimity, this sublime one, only then would his beauty commence. ... His deed itself still lies on him as a shadow: the hand still darkens the doer. As yet he has not overcomehis deed. Though I love the bull's neck on him, I also want to see the eyes of the angel. He must still discardhis heroic will; he shall be elevated,not merely sublime: the ether itself should elevate him, the will-less one.

is strikinglysimilarin contentto Rilke'ssonnet:

Surely,this is the theme of the third sonnetto Orpheus. VI I now propose to consider three more late poems, all short enough to be cited without omission, and illustrate specific parallelsto Nietzsche'sthought.I am not implyingthat all the later poems are so Nietzscheannor, for that matter,that all are so clearor so good. Here, to begin with, is the ninth poem from the secondpartof Sonnetsto Orpheus:
Jubilatenot when you judge that no rack is required, men's necks no longer stretchedin metallic splendor. None is enhanced,no man's heart, becausea desired spasm of mildness makes your contortionmore tender. What they receivedthrough the ages, the rack and the rod, scaffoldssurrenderas childrenthe toys of their previous birthday.Into the pure, the high, the undevious, opened-upheart-thus does not enter the god of genuine mildness.He would come with might and expand radiantlyas but the godlike will. More than a wind for huge ships that are safe near the land. Neither less than the secret,silent vibration conqueringus from within like a still playing child of unlimited copulation.

This is the heartof Nietzsche'scritiqueof modernman, the



point of his insistentquestion,"whetherwe have becomemore moral."In the sectionof The Twilight of the Idols that bears this title, Nietzsche protestsagainst a reviewerwho "went so far that he 'understood' the meaning of my work-not without his respect for my courage expressing and daring-to be a demand for the abolitionof all decent feelings. Thank youl In reply, I take the libertyof raisingthe questionwhetherwe have really become more moral."The "tenderness" of bourgeoismorality seemeda mockeryto Nietzscheand Rilke; and the poet evidently agreedwith these sentences in the chapter"On Those Who Are Sublime":
is part of the graciousness Gracefulness of the great-souled. . . . When power becomes gracious and descends into the visible- uch descent I call beauty.And there is nobodyfrom whom I want beautyas much as from you who are powerful: let your kindness be your final selfconquest. Of all evil I deem you capable:thereforeI want the good from you. Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselvesgood becausethey had no claws.

A similar experienceis formulatednear the beginning of Rilke'sfirst elegy:

The beautifulis nothing but the beginning of the terriblethat we still barely endure, and we admire it so becauseit serenelydisdains to destroy us.

The twelfth sonnet of part two concernsitself with the images of fire and change which are frequentlyencountered in Nietzsche's work,but the parallel extendsfar beyondthe imagery.
Choose to be changed. Oh experiencethe raptureof fire in which a life is concealed,exulting in change as it burns; and the projectingspirit who is masterof the entire earth, loves the figure's flight less than the point where it turns.



That which would lock itself up-already is frozen. Does it feel safe in the shadow of colorlessgrey? Wait, what is hardest will warn from afar what has chosen hardness:a hammer will shatterits prey. He that squandershimself as a well is cognized by cognition and it leads him rejoicingthrough the serene creation which often ceases to start and begins with the end. Every span of delight is the child or grandchildof division which they traversein wonder.And Daphne, since her transformation into a baytree,desiresthat you choose to be changed into wind.

This sonnet invites comparisonwith Nietzsche'sdictum: Nur (only thosewho conwer sich wandeltbleibtmit mir verwandt2 tinueto changeremainrelatedto me)-and with his little poem:
Yes, I know from where I came! Ever hungry like a flame I consume myself and glow. Light grows all that I conceive, ashes everythingI leave: Flame I am assuredly.

very While the first threelines of Rilke'ssestetare certainly octave obscure-and, I think,inferiorto the restof the poem-the clear.The meaningof the wordsis so easily is reallydeceptively seen that one is apt to overlookthat what is meant is anything wantsto lock himselfup afterhavingunderbut easy.Everybody for a few and perhaps in adolescence gone a few transformations choosessome state of being, usually yearsafter that; everybody without even realizingthat he choosesit, and says,more or less explicitly:that is the way I am, or happen to be. Or: I have always said that . . . Or: I am the kind who . . . Or one takes Or, if one has read some refuge in heredityand environment. misone blamesoneself on one's parents' of the psychoanalysts,
2. From the poem concluding Beyond Good and Evil.



takes:It is all their fault. "Chooseto be changed"is not only a call for continualgrowth; it is an implicit denunciationof all thesemythsand of any security that may be found in a tradition or expectedfrom a single conversion;it is an invitationto the life imaginable. most precarious The last of the threepoems to be cited here may have been Rilke'slast Germanpoem. (Manyof his last poemswere French -reminding us of Nietzsche'soccasionalwish that he might have been able to write some of his booksin Frenchratherthan in German.)
Dove that remainedoutside, outside the dovecote, back in its sphereand home, one with the day and night, it knows the secrecy when the most remote terroris fused into deeply felt flight. Of all the doves the always most protected, never endangeredmost, does not know tenderness; richest of all hearts is the resurrected: turning back liberates, freedom rejoices. Over the nowhere arches the everywhere. Oh, the ball that is thrown, that we dare, does it not fill our hands differentlythan before? By the weight of return it is more.

The theme of this poem can be traced back beyond the prodigal son; but Rilke is not trying to lend a voice to some ancientwisdom but recordinghis own experience which is free of all otherworldlyor doctrinaireovertones.And his "purely earthly,deeplyearthly,blissfullyearthly" feeling is no longeran of the Biblicaldictumthatthereis morejoy in heaven illustration over one repentantsinner than over ninety-ninejust men-for the conceptionof sin is no longermeaningfulhere-but a variation in a minorkey of Aphorism283 in Nietzsche'sGayScience: "Believe and the greatest fruitfulness me, the secretof the greatest enjoymentof existenceis: to live dangerously!"



The image of the ball conjoinedwith the substantival use of the everywhere takes us back to the first poem we cited, "The Song of the Idiot,"which alsofeatures both.In thatpoem"everything revolvesengrossed/ alwaysaroundthe Holy Ghost."In "The Panther" the image of revolvingis maintained, but in the centerthereis "dazed,a mighty will." Still, life makesno sense. But if this will were awakened?In "ArchaicTorso of Apollo" the senseless circularmotion is given up, and the human organ of reproduction has becomethe center-the symbolof creativity. of meaning:"Youmust changeyour Now there is a possibility life." But how? "A god can do it. But how can one follow?"In the sonnetsthe answeris given again and again with the image of the wind. Singing in truth is a wind. "And Daphne, since her transformation into a baytree,desiresthat you chooseto be changedinto wind." The wind is that which never locks itself up in any form, which never seeks or finds shelter,the symbol of the utterlyabandoned and exposedlife that is yet unstrained. In the ball the imageof the wind, of flight,mergeswith the older image of sphericalrevolution.Moving in circlesis the epitome of senselessness, and so, in a way, is the child'sthrowingof the ball or the aimlessblowing of the wind. There is nothing that gives our lives meaning,and viewedfrom the outsidelife, which endsin death,is senseless. Thereis no meaningoutside, but Rilke and Nietzsche proclaimthat a certainkind of life is its own reward,that a certainmode of experiencemakes life infinitely and worthwhile,and that "the secretof the greatestfruitfulness existence live the greatest enjoyment of is: to dangerouslyl"