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Ranier Rilke - The Unfinished

            It is interesting how poets from different writing periods can have similar views. Walt Whitman was a Transcendentalist, and Rainer Rilke wrote at the beginning of the Modernist period, yet both have very similar ideas about a poet's dedication to "things." Whitman believed that a poet's thoughts were "hymns of praise" (1855 preface to Leaves of Grass) to things, and Rilke believed that a poet had to "win the confidence" (Letters to a Young Poet) of things. Both poets also felt that we have to reach a certain level before we truly experience life. Of course, both poets had different methods of achieving this - Whitman's method was to open oneself to the world - to nature, and to other people. By doing this, a person would almost automatically "transcend," and be able to experience life fully. Rilke's method was to remove our subconscious filters, thus becoming more like we were while still in the womb. .
             Of course, Rilke's method was close to impossible, as he seemed to know, because he never offered any way to eliminate these filters. This is where Whitman's method is superior. Whitman presents a method of "transcendence" that involves closing one's eyes, lying in the grass, and experiencing the surrounding life. This is much easier (and probably more fun) than trying to figure out a way to revert to a state that we have no conscious memory of. It seems as though Rilke posed the problem, but could not solve it. Whitman posed the problem as well, but was able to answer it, half a century or so before Rilke even considered writing The Duino Elegies. If Rilke had been able to meet Whitman, would he have changed his philosophy? Would the Duino Elegies have become the Duino Revelries? Seeing as how Rilke had such a troubled life, as well as the fact that he was a rather dour German, probably not, but it still makes one think .
             Whitman believed that the self was an amalgam of all people - alive or dead, good or bad - in the world.

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