AN "ECSTATICALLY UNIFIED WORLD": FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF FIVE PROSE PIECES BY RILKE, 1947, WITH ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATIONS BY WIGHTMAN WILLIAMS, ONE OF ONLY 203 COPIES
RILKE, RAINER MARIA. Five Prose Pieces. Cummington, Massachusetts: Cummington Press, 1947. Tall octavo (8-3/4 by 9-1/2 inches), original half brown calf and marbled boards, uncut. $1400.
Limited first edition of five select prose works in English from Rilke's early years, featuring the inclusion of Erlebnis (Experience) together in print for the first time with Die Turnstunde (Gym Period), Begegnung (Encounter), Puppen (Dolls) and UrGerausch (Primal Sound), number 178 of only 203 copies on Van Gelder Oxhead paper (271 total), with original woodcut-engraved illustrations by artist Wightman Williams.
"Rilke was one of the most gifted and conscientious artists who ever lived" (Atlantic). This first edition of Five Prose Pieces brings together, for the first time in English, five early essays and stories. Its opening work, Die Turnstunde, (Gym Period) was first issued in German in 1902. Drawing on his experiences as a student at military schools, Rilke came to view the story "as one of his best prose pieces from his early years. The story's narrative brilliance lies mainly in its terseness, its ability to suggest rather than describe in detail" (Metzger, Companion, 71). This is followed by Begegnung (An Encounter), in which Rilke portrays a chance meeting between a man and a dog on a road "where one meets nobody." This highly evocative work, first issued in German in 1907, captures the dilemma of a man "desperately seeking a way out of the prison house of language" even as the dog's silent yet "happy expectation" seems to express a desire to share that prison (Kari Driscoll).
The third work, Puppen (Dolls), was first issued in German in 1914 after Rilke saw the dolls created by German artist Lotte Pritzell. It provocatively offers a "key to understanding his own attitudes towards the theme of division within the self" (Anthony Stephens). The book's fourth work, Erlebnis (An Experience), was written in 1913 but not first issued in German until after Rilke's death in 1926. Here, in its first appearance with these other select works, Rilke's "purely interior" narrative signals an "ecstatically unified world… an idea that is to recur in several of Rilke's works" (Metzger, 84). The final work, Rilke's autobiographical UrGerausch (Primal Sound), was first published in German in 1919. In it Rilke recalls the "homemade phonographs" of a former classroom: its "'markings traced on the cylinder'—the proto-writing of the past" (Jacobus, Time-Lines). First edition, first printing: featuring the inclusion of Erlebnis (An Experience) not present in the 1943 volume titled Primal Sound & Other Prose Pieces, which consisted of the other four works and illustrations by Paul Wieghardt (instead of Wightman Williams). Translation by Carl Niemeyer. Schroeder, Rainer Maria Rilke in America: A Bibliography, 31. Trace of bookplate removal.
A very elusive copy in fine condition.