Home > Uncategorized > Rainer Maria Rilke: War is always a prison

Rainer Maria Rilke: War is always a prison

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

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Stefan Zweig
From The World of Yesterday
Translated by Benjamin W. Huebsch and Helmut Ripperger

One day there was a knock at my door. A timid soldier stood outside. For the moment I was frightened: Rilke – Rainer Maria Rilke, in military disguise! He looked so touchingly awkward, his collar too tight, disturbed by the thought that he had to salute every officer, clicking his heels together. And since, in his high impulse to perfection, he wished to perform even this insignificant formality of the ritual in as exemplary a manner as possible, he found himself in a perpetual state of confusion. “I have always hated this military uniform,” he said to me in his soft tone of voice, “since my time in the military academy. I thought that I had escaped it once and for all. And now again, at almost forty!” Fortunately there were helping hands to protect him and, thanks to a benevolent medical examination, he was soon discharged. Once more he came into my room, this time to take leave – back in civilian clothes again – it seemed almost as if he had been wafted in, so noiseless were his movements. He wished to thank me for endeavouring, through Rolland, to rescue his library which had been confiscated in Paris. For the first time he no longer looked young; it was as if the thought of all this horror had exhausted him. “Abroad,” he said, “if one could only go abroad! War is always prison.” Then he left. Again I was all alone.

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