Rilke, Rainer Maria

 image Rainer Maria Rilke (5 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) was a Bohemian-Austrian poet. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language, focusing on concepts of  disbelief, solitude, and uncertainty.  His best known work is Duino Elegies.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

- Rilke, Rainer Maria

Writer and poet, considered one of the greatest lyric poets of modern Germany. Rilke created the ‘object poem’ attempting to describe with utmost clarity physical objects, the “silence of their concentrated reality.” He became famous with such works as DUINESER ELEGIEN and DIE SONETTE AN ORPHEUS. They both appeared in 1923. After these books, Rilke had published his major works, believing that he had done his best as a writer. “Works of art are indeed always products of having been in danger, of having gone to the very end in an experience, to where man can go no further.” (from Letters) Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague as the son of Josef Rilke, a railway official and the former Sophie Entz.

A crucial fact in Rilke’s life was that his mother called him Sophia. She forced him to wear girl’s clothes until he was aged five – compensating for the earlier loss of a baby daughter. Rilke’s parents separared when he was nine and his militarily inclined father sent him at ten to the military academies of St. P?n and Mahrisch-Weisskirchenn. He suffered at the military academy, and was sent to a business school in Linz. He also worked in his uncle’s law firm. Rilke continued his studies at the universities of Prague, Munich, and Berlin.

As a poet Rilke made his debut at the age of nineteen with LEBEN UND LIEDER (1894), written in the conventional style of Heinrich Heine. He met in Munich the Russian intellectual Lou Andreas-Salome, an older woman, who influenced him deeply. He travelled with her and her husband in Russia in 1899, visiting among others Leo Tolstoy. Rilke was deeply impressed by what he learned of Russian mysticism. During this period he started to write The Book of Hours: The Book of Monastic Life, which appeared in 1905. He spent some time in Italy, Sweden and Denmark, and joined an artists’ colony at Worpswede in 1903.

During his Paris years Rilke developed a new style of lyrical poetry. After NEUE GEDIGHTE in (1907-08, New Poems) he wrote a notebook named DIE AUFZECHNUNGEN DES MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE (1910), his most important prose work. It took the form of a series of semiautobiographical spiritual confessions but written by a Danish expatriate in Paris. Rilke’s “thing-poems” (Dinggedichte) were not about dead objects, but in his writing they came alive – in ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’ (from New Poems, 1908) the ancient statue discovered at Miletus is “stuffed with brilliance from inside” and “gleams in all its power”. Rilke kept silence as a poet for twelve years before writing Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, which are concerned with ‘the identity of terror and bliss’ and ‘the oneness of life and death’. Duino Elegies was born in two bursts of inspiration separated by ten years. In 1910-1912 Rilke was for some time the guest of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe at Duino, her castle near Trieste. According to a story, Rilke heard in the wind the first lines of his elegies when he was walking on the rocks above the sea – “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ / hierarchies?”

In 1913 Rilke returned to Paris but he was forced to return to Germany because of the First World War. Duino Castle was bombarded to ruins and Rilke’s personal property was confiscated in France. He served in the Austrian army and found another patron, Werner Reinhart, who owned the Castle Muzot at Valais. After 1919 he lived in Switzerland, where he died on December 29, in 1926. He had suffered from leukemia, and died of an infection he contracted when he pricked himself on a rose thorn. Duineser Elegien (1923) – Rilke visited his friend Princess Marie von Thurnun Taxis in 1910 at Duino, her remote castle on the coast of the Adriatic, and returned again next year. There he started to compose the poems, but the work did proceed easily.

After serving in the army Rilke was afraid that he would never be able to finish it but finally in 1922 he completed Duineser Elegien (Duino Elegies) in a chateau in Muzot, Switzerland. He also wrote an addition, the Sonnets to Orpheus (1923), which was a memorial for the young daughter of a friend. In the philosophical poems Rilke meditated on time and eternity, life and death, art versus ordinary things. The tone was melancholic. Rilke believed in the coexistence of the material and spiritual realms, but human being were for him only spectators of life, grasping its beauties momentarily only to lose them again. The Angel of absolute reality from his early elegies is too perfect and far from the reality of earth, but with the power of creativity an artist can try to build a bridge between two worlds, although the task is almost too great for a man. The work influenced deeply such poets as W.H. Auden, who had Rilkean angels appear in the collection In Times of War (1939), Sidney Keyes, Stephen Spender, Robert Bly, W.S. Merwin and John Ashbery.

Source: Books and Writers

Poems of Rilke

Rilke Links