On September 2, 1902, the day after first making Rodin's acquaintance, Rilke wrote to his wife Clara describing the meeting. His reverance for the master is already clear:
"Yesterday, Monday afternoon at three o'clock, I was at Rodin's for the first time. Atelier 182 rue de l'Universite. I went down the Seine. He had a model, a girl. Had a little laster plaster object in his hand on which he was scraping about. He simply quit work, offered me a chair, and we talked. He was kind and gentle. And it seemed to me that I had always known him. That I was only seeing him again; I found him smaller, and yet more powerful, more kindly, and more noble. That forehead, the relationship it bears to his nose which rides out of it like a ship out of harbor...that is very remarkable. Character of stone is in that forehead and that nose. And his mouth has a speech whose ring is good, intimate, and full of youth. So also is his laugh, that embarrassed and at the same time joyful laugh of a child that has been given lovely presents. He is very dear to me. That I knew at once." (from Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1920; W.W. Norton, 1945)
This letter is the basis for my own rendition of the meeting in Lost Son.
From left: Rilke, Rose Beuret (commonly referred to at the time as "Madame Rodin,") and Auguste Rodin
Rilke's New Poems (Neue Gedichte) bear evidence of the hours upon hours the poet spent in the presence of Rodin's sculpture. In 1908, while Rilke was living at the somewhat derlict Hôtel Biron, an 18th-century chateau just a block from Napolean's tomb, he invited Rodin to visit. Rodin was so taken with the Hôtel Biron that the following day he leased the entire ground floor for use as his studio. Eventually he purchased the estate, and it is now the Musée Rodin.
The Musée Rodin / Hôtel Biron today.
The Rilke-Rodin friendship continues to fascinate. Just two weeks ago, a docu-drama concerning the famous meeting premiered on Arte TV in Europe. Below is an image of the two principal actors: Cyril Descours as Rilke and Jacques Bondoux as Rodin.
Here's an excerpt from Lost Son. It is September 1, 1902 and the poet has just sat and talked with Rodin. Now he's exploring the sculptor's studio:
You move through the atelier, light-footed and slow. A great deal to look at here, the Master's creations bristling on all sides, and it's very strange to have the creator himself close at hand all the while. The rasp of his stylus is the only sound in the room. Passing amongst the works, you have a strange sensation of being waterborne, of drifting. It occurs to you now that each of these figures is an island of sorts. Rodin is alone in his work, as is most every artist. These figures stand up out of his aloneness. Yes, so an artist has rights to nothing but his solitude, from which he raises monuments. Though the whole world may give its heart to an artist's creations, his loneliness shall never be circumscribed by love. Rodin's fame bears no connection to his greatness -- nor even to this work of his; to watch him now, across this terrain of his labor, it seems very clear: fame is but a thing that tries to circumscribe his loneliness. Meanwhile, he keeps working day by day, quietly as in this very moment. This Master whose name pours from the mouths of countless men -- this Master goes on working as if unknown, as if nameless, alone to himself in his Paris atelier on a Monday afternoon.