- I've been meaning to share a bit of this description of Rilke from
the Zweig book: The World of Yesterday. Lincoln, Neb.: University of
Nebraska Press, 1969 printing.
From page 142
Of all of these men, perhaps none lived more gently, more secretly,
more invisibily than Rilke. But it was not willful, nor forced or
assumed priestly loneliness such as Stefan George celebrated in
Germany; silence seemed to grow around him, wherever he went,
wherever he was. Since he avoided every noise, even his own fame-
that "sum of misunderstanding, that collects itself about a name," as
he once expressed it-the approaching wave of idle curiosity moistened
only his name and never his person. It was difficult to reach Rilke.
He had no house, no address where one could find him, no home, no
steady lodging, no office. He was always on his way through the
world, and no one, not even he himself, knew in advance which
direction he would take. To his immeasurably sensitive soul, every
positive decision, all planning and every announcement were
burdensome. It was always by chance that one met him. You stood in an
Italian gallery and felt, without being aware of whence it came, a
gentle, friendly smile. And only then you recognized his blue eyes
which, when they looked at you, lit up his otherwise unimpressive
countenance with an inner light. But this unimpressiveness was
precisely the deepest secret of his being. Thousands may have passed
by this young man, with his slightly melancholy drooping blond
mustache and his somewhat Slavic features, undistinguished by any
single trait, without dreaming athat this was a poet and one of the
greatest of our generation; his individuality, his unusual demeanor
were only apparent in a closer association. He had an indescribably
gentle way of approaching and talking. When he entered a room where
people were gathered together, it was so noiselessly that hardly
anyone noticed him. He sat there quietly listening, lifted his head
unconsciously when anything seemed to occupy his thoughts, or when he
himself began to speak, always without affectation or raised voice.
He spoke naturally and simply, like a mother telling a fairy tale to
her child, and just as lovingly; it was wonderful how, listening to
him, even the most insignificant subject became picturesque and
important. But no sooner did he feel that he was the center of
attention in a larger circle than he stopped speaking and once again
sank down into his silent, attentive listening.
There is quite a bit more on Rilke. It is an amazingly delicate
characterization of an extraordinary personality.