Rilke e Petrarca

Achim Aurnhammer


Rainer Maria Rilke’s first encounter with the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca came rather late, at the age of thirty-five. In 1911 he set about translating Petrarch’s letter to Dionigi di San Sepolcro from 26 April 1336 regarding the ascent of Mount Ventoux, of which only fragments have survived. This particular letter piqued his interest because of its ‘conversio’ theme, as Rilke tells us in his correspondence. The ‘conversio’ bears a strong thematic relation to his Duino Elegies (written from 1912 to 1922), which deal with life as the expectation of death. The aesthetic affinity to Petrarch intensified during Rilke’s stay in Duino, where the princess Marie Thurn und Taxis encouraged him to occupy himself with Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Rilke’s aesthetic interest was not only incited by his reading, but also by a joint visit to Petrarch’s house in Arquà, which is documented in the previously unpublished guestbook. This affinity is condensed in three translations from the Canzoniere in 1918: Canz. 278, 289 and 294. This selection is not arbitrary: Rilke’s translations of the sonnets, which shall be analyzed here in a comparative survey, anticipate both formally and in terms of the content in nuce Rilke’s own late poetic work, the Sonnets to Orpheus. The apotheosis of the dead beloved Laura, whom even Petrarch had already cross-faded with the myth of Apollo and Daphnis, serves as a pattern for the reactualization of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Hence, Petrarch’s poetry provides a model for Rilke’s two important aesthetic reorientations of this time, for the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus.


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