At the turn of eighteenth and nineteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, sculpture came to serve as an emblem of humanity’s response to the challenges of the times. John Keats and Rainer Maria Rilke, felt compelled at their encounters with ancient Greek sculpture in the museum to reflect upon their vocation in an age disrupted by political upheaval and rampant commercialization respectively. Keats’s sonnet, “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” (1817), registers an intimation of his latent grandeur in the form of a “sick eagle,” confronting “a shadow of a magnitude.” To overcome this experience, Keats made attempts at epic on the theme of Hyperion (1819-20). His dyad Hyperion-Apollo represents skepticism about the new order which was yet to emerge in the post-Napoleonic era. One century away, these marbles inspired Auguste Rodin. Rodin’s works exert a great influence on Rilke. Rilke’s endeavor shows in “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes” (1904) and culminates in the “Sonnets to Orpheus” (1923). Rilke’s trio, Orpheus-Eurydice-Hermes, embodies his solution to the anxiety provoked by alienation in an age of commodification. The exhortation in the Sonnets to declare “I am” crystalizes Rilke’s recognition of human participation in the elemental transformation. This essay illustrates how the encounters with sculpture help them fashion their self-image to both represent and withstand the challenges of the times.
"“A Sick Eagle” and “I am”: Hymns to Sculpture by Keats and Rilke."
CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture
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