You Must Change Your Life ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

You Must Change Your Life ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Rainer Maria Rilke was a German-speaking (Austrian) metaphysical poet (metaphysical meaning he wrote about abstract topics such as conscience and the meaning of existence) who lived from 1875 to 1926. He had a wife and a daughter named Ruth but was never very family-oriented, stating at one time that family was “annihilation to an artist.”

Rilke’s work included poems and lyrical prose. His work has been described by some critics as “mystical.” He wrote one novel, several volumes of poetry and several volumes of correspondence. He was a transitional figure between traditional and modernist writers. His work is still widely read and appreciated today, ninety-five years after his death. 

Auguste Rodin, generally considered the founder of modern sculpture, lived from 1840 to 1917. His most notable sculptures clashed with predominant sculpture traditions (decorative or formulaic). His sculptures celebrated individual character and physicality. Among his most important and identifiable works are The Kiss and The Thinker. Rodin remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community.

What did Rilke, the poet, and Rodin, the sculptor, have in common? They came from different European countries; Rilke spoke German and Rodin French. They were thirty-five years apart in age. Rodin was large, outgoing and robust. Rilke was frail and nervous and spent a lot of his time being ill.  

Early in his life, Rilke became an intense and ardent admirer of Rodin’s sculptures and of Rodin the man. Rilke saw Rodin as a kindred spirit, even though they were so different in a lot of ways. Rilke believed there was a connection between his own life and Rodin’s; their philosophy and approach to life were much the same; there was a lot to be learned from such a man. Rilke wanted to apply Rodin’s approach to sculpture to his own work of writing poetry. He went to live in Paris to be near the “master.” He learned to speak French, eventually giving up his native German language.   

Rilke spent so much time in Rodin’s studio that Rodin eventually hired him as his private secretary. They became close companions, but after a while Rodin fired Rilke for what was, in fact, only a minor liberty that Rilke took without asking permission. Rilke was deeply offended and the two men didn’t speak for almost two years, although Rilke still deeply admired Rodin. Their rift was eventually healed and the two of them remained friends and associates for years, until Rodin died in 1917.   

You Must Change Your Life, by Rachel Corbett, is a unique double biography of Rainer Marie Rilke and Auguste Rodin, but it’s also the story of the interesting times in which these two artists lived, a time of a great flowering in the arts, music and letters. Think Belle Epoque, the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, and the Paris Exposition of 1900, in which Rodin had his own pavilion to display his sculptures. He was the only artist to be afforded such an honor.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp   

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