Books: Revelations

RILKE: A LIFE

by Wolfgang Leppmann

Translated by Russell M. Stockman

Fromm; 432 pages; $22.50

Poets are known more for their legends, alas, than for their poetry: Coleridge was an opium visionary; Byron slept with his half sister; Dylan Thomas drank 18 straight whiskies and expired. Rainer Maria Rilke is remembered as the poet who pricked himself while plucking a rose, dying of the consequences.

Like many other poetic legends, it is only half true. Rilke was infected by a thorn in 1926, the last year of his life, but he died of leukemia. Even more...

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