This essay explores how the poets Emily Dickinson (American, 1830–1886), Giovanni Pascoli (Italian, 1855–1912), and Rainer Maria Rilke (Bohemian-Austrian, 1875–1926) each use celestial imagery, such as the sun and stars, to represent the modern mystery ushered in by scientific epistemologies and the waning of religious belief. In mapping the poets' respective strategies for speaking of the “eclipse” of God, the essay analyzes the rhetorical choices each poet makes in evoking the transcendent while highlighting its unknowability. As one moves into the twentieth-century high modernism of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies, the possibility of a transcendence compatible with secular modernity becomes increasingly evident. Engaging a vocabulary of religious images whose authority has been attenuated but which have not been emptied of significance, the poetry reflects a modern mythos that locates the sacred in the here-and-now.

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