Rainer Maria Rilke's Stories of God
Stories of God.|
Rainer Maria Rilke.
Michael H. Kohn, translator.
Shambala Books, 2003.
118 pages, $9.95 (paperback).
Michael Kohn's translation of Rilke's prose collection, Stories of God—one of Rilke's early successes—fills in another gap in the recent project of publishing new translations of less well-known pieces of the twentieth century German poet's work. The work was composed after Rilke's first trip to Russia in 1899 with his muse and then-lover Lou Andres Salome during a productive fall in which he began his first major volume of poetry, The Book of Hours (1905). The latter collection is, along with Letters to a Young Poet, one of the most accessible and oft read of Rilke's works, and a translation of its prose companion is welcome.
One of the characteristics of Rilke's creative process is that he would develop a theme in different, contrasting forms or diction, so that each of his major works has its double. Stories of God, which reads like a collection of Sufi or Hassidic teaching tales, works over the same thematic territory explored in The Book of Hours. In particular, it develops Rilke's notion that God (beauty, value, what's good in being) is realized—brought into being—in artistic expression and story.
The stories themselves have a delightful balance of humor and sweetness, and range over Rilke's constant themes—childhood, memory, intimate conversation, the blossoming of Death, and God as an expectant, pregnant darkness. They demonstrate Rilke's great formal powers and his subtle but pointed satirical wit.
Reading these, I find myself again wishing that more American writers would take Rilke rather than Hemingway as their guide.