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Name: Harlequin and Pierrot in the Works of Rainer Maria Rilke

Authors: A. E. Moskaleva

Novosibirsk State Theatrical Institute

Issue 1, 2018Pages 230-242
UDK: 82(091)DOI: 10/25205/2307-1737-2018-1-230-242

Abstract: The article discusses one of the episodes of R. M. Rilke’s creative process reflected in his letters and the history of creating two poetic cycles, «Duino Elegies» and the «Sonnets to Orpheus» – namely, how it was influenced by the poet’s perception and interpretation of the paintings of P. Picasso and P. Сézanne. The very wording of the paper’s title in this case alludes to the paradoxical situation experienced by Rilke. In 1915 the great poet saw in the Munich art museum Picasso’s painting «Death of Harlequin», but describing in a letter his impressions, Rilke mixed Harlequin and Pierrot. It is a really remarkable fact, since the checkered dress of Harlequin was undoubtedly familiar to Rilke, and not only as a well-known fact, but as a subject of the poet’s other favorite artist Cézanne’s «Harlequin and Pierrot». The strange substitution of the two theatrical figures in the consciousness of the poet could occur for a simple reason: in the Picasso’s painting the dying Harlequin can be identified only by the remaining four lozenges on his suit. After the impressions of the painting «Death of Harlequin» in 1915, in June, Rilke saw in the apartment of Frau Hertha von König in Munich another Picasso’s painting – «Wandering Acrobats», which allowed him to finish the cycle «Duino elegies», while the creative process was surrounded by a number of interesting details. Rilke begins to work on the elegies in 1912, soon after the First Elegy Rilke creates the Second and a significant part of the Third, Sixth, Ninth and Tenth. Such an active start of his work on the elegies gave grounds to hope for a speedy completion of the cycle, but in mid-March 1912, Rilke stops the work cycle. Only in the autumn of 1915 Rilke will write the Fourth, and later in 1922, having written the Seventh and Eighth, having finished finish the Sixth, Ninth and Tenth elegies, he writes the Elegy about the acrobats, which will be the Fifth in the cycle, the one to discern the characteristics of Picasso’s acrobats. The complexity and the disorder of creation of the cycle’s texts is complicated by the fact that writing of the Elegies collides with writing of the «Sonnets to Orpheus». Surprisingly, the text of the Fifth Elegy really captures the moment of crystallization of the hero, of his becoming the main object of the description to Rilke. In the Sixth Elegy his classic recognizable signs are already manifested: the gift of the singer, rising and standing hero etc. Note that the name of Orpheus and its active action fundamentally has no place in the «Elegies», where he is just outlined as an upcoming hero, because the world of «Elegies» consists of actors, masks and puppets. In this context, the strange confusion of the names of Harlequin and Pierrot in the description of the poet Picasso’s «death of a Harlequin», becomes quite clear and very archetypal for Rilke: Harlequin is repersented in the painting as if cleared of his own personal will, no ruff, no ribbons, no hat, no masks, just the four losenges. He symbolizes the body coming up to the point of rebirth in Orpheus, i.e. his theatrical twin Pierrot.

Keywords: Rilke, Harlequin, Pierrot, Picasso, Cezanne, Orpheus, poetic autoreference, poetry of the twentieth century, modernism, metaphor


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