Being and Death in Rilke’s Duino Elegies


  • Pritam Bhaumik Guest Lecturer South Calcutta Girls’ College Kolkata, West Bengal India


The German poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) composed the Duino Elegies, regarded as one of the greatest works of modernist poetry, in two creative bursts between 1912 and 1922. Separated by the First World War, the elegies bear an indelible impression of death. The later decade had already manifested a discernible shift in the world as well as in Rilke’s poetics, who had already become considerably interested in what he called the “Angelic†mode of consciousness, which is a fuller consciousness borne out of interweaving life and death, and transcends the limitations of temporal existence.I argue that the desire for death manifest in the elegies is not only the desire for fullness from which the modern spirit has been extricated, but that the work strives to articulate this peculiar mode of absence and dispossession. This is charted in language through non-representative images borne out of a commitment to impersonal death. However, a reversion to the ecstasies of the world and to language celebrates the contradictoriness of being and acquires an urgency within the narrative. The rejection of transcendence for immanence is what I have called a transformative death whereby which the text affirms itself.


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