Mark Wunderlich

Feb 19, 2021

Mark Wunderlich on Rainer Maria Rilke

Great Books Series

New Books Network 2021

"Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the order of angels?" This angsty cry opens poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies -- one of the greatest poetic masterpieces of all time that grounds us, modern beings, in a disenchanted, mechanized, and godless world. Is there a meaning to our lives beyond our immediate, material conditions that does not involve the temptations of religion, politics, or ideology? For Rilke, only two experiences activate that part of ourselves which makes us greater: love, including erotic love, and the experience of death, never available to us.

I spoke with poet Mark Wunderlich, who is deeply interested in how we exist on this earth as a setting for our experience, and who also loves Rilke, about these 10 poems, most of which Rilke famously wrote in a fit of creativity (in a single week!) exactly 99 years ago this month.

Mark Wunderlich is the author of God of Nothingness, The Earth Avails, and other volumes of poetry. He is also Director of Creative Writing at Bennington College, in Vermont. I have loved Rilke, like many people, ever since reading his Letters to a Young Poet, which I translated into English, and which another great lover of Rilke, the artist Lady Gaga, has tatooed on her arm. I've translated other letters by Rilke: those on life, and his startlingly beautiful letters of condolence, in The Dark Interval, also available in an audio book recorded by the amazing Rosanne Cash.

Uli Baer teaches literature and photography as University Professor at New York University. A recipient of Guggenheim, Getty and Humboldt awards, in addition to hosting "Speaking of…” he hosts (with Caroline Weber) the podcast "The Proust Questionnaire” and is Editorial Director at Warbler Press. Email ucb1@nyu.edu; Twitter @UliBaer.

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Uli Baer

Uli Baer teaches literature and photography as University Professor at New York University. A recipient of Guggenheim, Getty and Humboldt awards, in addition to hosting "Speaking of…” he hosts (with Caroline Weber) the podcast "The Proust Questionnaire” and is Editorial Director at Warbler Press. Email ucb1@nyu.edu; Twitter @UliBaer.

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