Despite generic and philosophical distinctions, the elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke and Virginia Woolf embody a modernist poetics of insufficiency, one which remains endlessly open to death. Death, The Duino Elegies and novels like Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse reveal, is both the object, and potentially inexhaustible source, of art. But instead of treating consolation with contempt, as Jahan Ramazani has argued, their modernist elegies emphasize the human desire for recovery and full presence, for transcendence, while offering themselves as proof that art cannot transcend death. This elegiac tension, their poetics’s insistence that mourning be without closure, does, nevertheless, contain a poignant and vital sublimity of its own—challenging us not only to grieve differently, but also to see the life around us in formerly unsuspected ways. For these two modernists, then, the elegy constitutes the process of reopening the wound, and the consolation that leaves readers profoundly affected and ultimately dissatisfied.


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pp. 1-21
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