Balthus the Artist

To some the appearance of the Polish-French artist Balthus Klossowski in the Rilke book might come as a surprise. The same applies to his older brother Pierre the super intellectual. But Balthus in fact plays an important part in the book because his mother was Rilke’s mistress and muse and he was befriended by Rilke who was also responsible for his education.

There was also another aspect to the young Balthus because he had a talent for detective work. In the period that he lived in Berlin, he worked with police to bring a criminal gang to justice. Later in Geneva, he solved another case of a murdered American tourist. With regard to art he benefited from visits to the Berlin police headquarters at Alexanderplatz. Read more on page 59.

Rilkes Welt

Festschrift for August Stahl on his 75th birthday

When my book was a work-in-progress, I was privileged to be invited to give talks to the members of the Rilke Gesellschaft. As my knowledge of German was rudimentary, a bilingual friend translated the English sentences which I read from the manuscript into German.

One of the memorable events was a conference at the Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll in 2008 on Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Valery. I was involved in a workshop on Rilke, Valery and his mistress Catherine Pozzi.

I had contrasted the two couples as the antithesis of each other. Rilke and Elisabeth Klossowska as the great passion like Abelard and Heloise while Valery and Pozzi opted for a more modern interpretation. They looked upon their relationship as a fusion of two light atoms to create a heavier third, energy-rich.

The highlight during this period was to be asked to contribute to Rilkes Welt: Festschrift For August Stahl on his 75th birthday, the renowned Rilke scholar.

Rilkes Welt (Peter Lang 2009) encompasses Rilke’s concept of ‘world’, his inclusion of ‘world’, the literary design and its reception are the focus of this volume of essays. In around 50 contributions by international literary scholars and Rilke researchers, it presents the many facets in the life and work of the European poet from Prague and thus not only gives an impression of Rilke’s work, but also of its importance for literary and cultural history.

The occasion of the publication was the birthday of August Stahl, his literary work and personal commitment to the development, dissemination and understanding of Rilke – far beyond his work as the then President of the International Rilke Society – of Rilke researchers, Rilke readers and Rilke lovers is recognized.

For this reason, a list of the writings related to Rilke by August Stahl concludes the anthology, which aims to open up many dimensions of Rilke’s ‘world’.

Victoria Station

My dance with Rilke began on Victoria station when I commuted from London to West Sussex. I usually arrived with 10 minutes to spare to catch the hourly train and I would check the books at the W.H.Smith shop on the platform. It was there that I found Stephen Mitchell’s Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. I was entranced. It took me a decade to complete my book on the poet. 

In the journey of discovery, I came to see a different side of his character. No longer the guru who imparted wisdom, but the real person shone through. A flesh and blood lover who adored woman. An obdurate man of moods and above all, one who cared deeply for others whether it be a waif on the streets or a hungry dog with imploring eyes.