The stories themselves total fourteen. I won’t here take away any of the joy you might find in reading them but you might want to have some idea of what each story is about – that is, in addition to God. That said, here is such an attempt, in the briefest form possible.
By Way of Introduction: The Tale of God’s Hands – as translated by Gunilla Zedigh – introduces the framework of the book, as well as the storyteller (Rilke) and his neighbor, a woman, a mother. The framework is that the storyteller will tell stories to various people in the town and they each in turn will tell the stories to the children. The first story is, as you would expect, a tale about God and His hands. St. Nicholas also makes a brief appearance.
Why the benevolent God wants there to be poor people – as translated for us by Stefan White – in it, we meet a teacher and we are given an answer to the question posed in the title while told of an encounter between God and a sculptor.
How betrayal came to Russia – as translated by Karen Haydon – here, we meet Ewald, Rilke’s lame neighbor – the tale he tells Ewald is set in Russia in the time of Czar Ivan the Terrible and it also answers the question posed in its title.
How old Timofej died singing – as translated by Walter Köppe – is set in the Russian Ukraine in the time of the Czars and Ewald is told of an old singer of epic songs and fairy tales as it also answers the question posed in its title.
The Song of Justice – as translated by Gert Sass – is set in the Ukraine while it was ruled by Polish noblemen and at civil war with the Cossacks; in the tale told to Ewald, we again meet an ancient si
nger, a singer of a song of justice.
A Scene from the Venetian Ghetto – as translated by Linda Gaus – is told to a Mr. Baum, a civic leader; set loosely in Renaissance Venice, it tells of an old Jewish goldsmith ‘confined’ to his ghetto, of his grand-daughter, Esther, of her child and of the sea.
About One Who Eavesdrops On The Stones – as translated by Therese Eglseder – Ewald learns something about Michelangelo.
How the thimble came to be God – as translated by Tessa Sachse – is told to a group of evening clouds, both young and old, impertinent and wise; they, and we, hear a tale of seven children and discover the answer to the question posed in its title.
An Organization Called Forth by an Urgent Need – as translated by Chris Michalski – tells of a young ‘musician’ on a ‘civic’ errand on behalf of Mr. Baum, who instead is related a tale of three painters.
The Beggar and the Proud Maiden – as translated by Rebecca Lavnick – is set in Renaissance Florence, told to the teacher who we met previously, and tells of an encounter outside a church.
A Tale told to the Dark – as translated by Katarina Peters – tells of one man’s search for meaning and his encounter with his long-lost and only childhood friend.
Addendum: A letter from lame Ewald – as translated by Neil Williamson – to our storyteller, Rilke, his ‘dear and distant friend’, a joyous lament, of sorts.
This last story was not part of the original collection – nor does it appear in two prior English translations of the collection. The ‘letter’, dated 2 February 1907, written by Rilke on the island of Capri, is a kind of addendum to the Geschichen vom lieben Gott and was, therefore, included as an annex to a German language edition, Rilke, R. M. Geschichten vom Lieben Gott. Edited by Franz Loqua: Munich, Bavaria, Germany: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, 1997 –as well as in the online version on the Rilke Literary Society’s website. And, so, it is included in this collection.
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