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In this venture, his work shows more clearly than that of many others the strain internationalism placed on modern writers. Stefan George once commented that Rilke had started to publish too early, a judgment Rilke himself later cited with agreement. He had already published another collection of poems, Leben und Lieder [Life and Songs], the year before.
Why did Rilke call the volume Sacrifices to the Lares? Critics have paid curiously little attention to this question. Sacrifices to the Lares is a collection of verbal postcard views, as if Rilke felt obliged to propitiate the household gods before he left his native city for good. Verstohlen liest die Sonne die geheimnisvollen Worte unter einer Steinmadonne. And on every porch and stair, languid, smiling, cupids breathe. Baroque, on rooftops in the air, vases rustle round with wreaths. Spider webs obscure the portal in that place. In fact, a number of poems in the same volume are reworkings of familiar texts.
Dreamily the moon shines down, Taking pleasure in the town, As if what lay there, petrified, Were a fairy countryside.
And the watchman as of yore Sings his ancient song of prayer: May God keep the sailor safe Whose boat is passing over there! In a paradoxical and even logic-defying way, however, everything is also somehow animated. What begins as simple anthropomorphism, with towers peering out from the mists and the moon taking a dreamy pleasure in the sight of the city below, shifts to a strangely disembodied version of the pathetic fallacy, as the atmosphere above the houses fills with listening.
The spider-webs on the door suggest a sleepingbeauty world scarcely touched by modern life. The scene is expressive, communicative, full of meaningful sounds, glances and gestures.
Yet none of these signs can be fully decoded, at least not by their human observer. At times, the syntax itself is sketchy and the descriptive method impressionistic; the enjambements in the third stanza close, rather than open, the door to meaning. The eye moves rapidly about the scene without putting together a coherent whole. At first, the characteristic features of the quarter seem to be repeated everywhere alike: houses, towers, courtyards, cupids and vases appear quintessentially plural.
He cannot look beyond the cobwebbed door or understand the words on the base of the statue. Instead, the entire scene is composed of surfaces without depth. The young Prague poet regards himself as part of a distinguished poetic lineage, yet he also sees himself as a latecomer who does not have complete access to this heritage.
The crisis expressed here is a crisis of marginality. Rilke himself was soon to move away. The poems of Sacrifices to the Lares forge an aesthetic of marginality by looking at home from the perspective of a tourist.
A conscious discrepancy between German literary language and Czech folk tradition runs through the entire volume. If the opening poems rework Eichendorff, the concluding poem recalls Heine. The reader of this pastiche knows, however, that the Lorelei lures men to their deaths. In November of the same year, he began work on a volume of poetry, titled Mir zur Feier [To Celebrate Myself], that was to establish a tone quite different from that of his previous two volumes.
Moving in from the cultural margins means immersing oneself in this flux. Two aspects of the Jugendstil movement attract his attention: its fascination with floral decor, and its cult of youth. Here is the first in the sequence: Ich bin so jung. I am so young. For it is time to leave, not time to stay, when, from this early coastal coolness, day guides me more deeply on the road inland.
His subterranean palace, with its artificial gardens, is a timeless realm totally removed from the sphere of real life and action.
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Its underground garden is composed of petrified trees and lifeless birds; only the glimmer of lava and the dusty scent of incense lend a semblance of life to his artificial paradise. In them, he stakes a new claim to a sensitive, supple, and mobile kind of writing that will include increased responsiveness, change and growth. The speaker gives himself up to the sounds wafted in by the wind and lets himself be led by the emerging daylight. There is something threatening about this apparently easy commerce with nature. Why does the poet shudder when he yields himself up to the sounds borne by the wind?
Why does he even imagine freeing himself from armour? At the same time, a new conception of the relation between experiencing subject and poetic object begins to emerge. Alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and other self-echoing effects enhance the reflexivity between speaker and garden to create an interior landscape in which subject and object are suspended in complex interaction. Apparently countermanding this self-reflexivity is the summons to travel; yet the trip, far from leading into the open, will take the speaker inland into a topography of enclosure.