The consummate musicality of the verse in Rilke's 'Sonnets to Orpheus' stems from a blend of sophisticated craftmanship and poetological originality, as this study sets out to demonstrate. A detailed analysis of the text forms the basis for a discussion of a variety of topics that have traditionally divided literary critics: the unity of the cycle, the use of the sonnet form, the morphological Keimzellenprinzip (nucleus principle), Rilke's contribution to the discussion on the role of the subject in modern literature, his concept of the literary work, his 'abstractionist' approach, his view of temporality, and his reinterpretation of the figure of Orpheus. The findings cast a radically new light on a number of frequently rehearsed topoi in Rilke interpretation. At the same time they reveal the crucial role played by the cycle in the history of poetry on the threshold of modernism.
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