the life and works of rainer maria rilke l.
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The life and works of Rainer Maria Rilke. By Christine Petrarca. Rainer Maria Rilke, born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Joseph Maria Rilke, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on December 4, 1875. The Beginning. Background. Josef Rilke, father of Rainer, was a railway supervisor.

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the beginning
Rainer Maria Rilke, born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Joseph Maria Rilke, was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on December 4, 1875The Beginning
  • Josef Rilke, father of Rainer, was a railway supervisor.
  • Sophie Entz, his mother, was a prominent bank officical’s daughter.
  • Although Rilke was born in Czechoslovakia, he was a resident of various cities in Europe including Berlin and Munich.
  • Rilke was born of Austro-Hungarian descent.
the early years
The Early Years
  • During the first five years of his life, Rilke’s mother dressed him as a girl. This resulted from the loss of a baby girl one year prior to Rilke’s birth…his mother called him Sophie until it was time for him to attend school.
  • Although Rilke’s mother was to blame for his early childhood trauma, she encouraged him to read and write poetry.

“I had to wear beautiful long dresses and until I started school I went about like a little girl. I think my mother played with me as though I were a big doll.”

a father s influence
A father’s influence

Upon the decision of his father, a failed military officer, Rilke was sent to St. Pölten and Mahrisch-Weisskirchen military academy until 1891.

After this duration of his education, he went to preparatory school, and later to business school in Linz, Austria.

poetic debut
Poetic Debut

Rilke’s first work was published in 1894 -entitled Leben und Lieder.

In 1895, Rilke heads for study at the Charles University in Prague.

Near the end of 1895, Rilke published his second set of works, Larenopfer.

Shortly after, in 1896, his third collection was published, Traumgekrönt.


Rilke’s first love

In 1896, Rilke began his study of Philosophy at the University of Munich.

That same year he met Lou Salomé, a Russian woman who was fourteen years older than he. He fell in love with her shortly thereafter.

In 1897, René changes his name to Rainer. This year, he also decides to follow Salomé to Berlin.

"To be loved means to be consumed. To love is to give light with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away, to love is to endure."


A time of transition for Rainer

In 1898, Rilke spent some time in Florence. He said about the city:

“…I felt at first so confused that I could scarcely separate my impressions, and thought I was drowning in the breaking waves of some foreign splendor.”

a short lived love affair an abundance of experience
A short-lived love affair, an abundance of experience

Although Rilke’s relationship with Salomé lasted less than two years, they remained close and traveled together, along with Salomé’s new husband, to Russia in 1899.

This is when Rilke met Tolstoy. He was impressed with what he learned of Russian writings during this time period.


From his trips to Russia, a new book of poetry was born. Although Das Stunden Buch , the Book of the Hours, wasn’t published until 1905, it was reflective of his time spent in Russia with Nietzsche and Salomé.

Ich bin du Ängstlicher. Hörst du mich nicht mit allen meinen Sinnen an dir branden? Meine Gefühle, welche Flügel fanden, umkreisen weiß dein Angesicht. Siehst du nicht meine Seele, wie sie dicht vor dir in einem Kleid aus Stille Steht? Reift nicht mein meiliches Gebet an deinem Blicke wie an einem Baum?

Wenn du der Träumer bist, bin ich dein Traum. Doch wenn du wachen willst, bin ich dein Wille und werde mächtig aller Herrlichkeit und ründe mich wie eine Sternenstille über der wunderlichen Stadt der Zeit.


Married Life

  • In 1900, Rainer met Clara Westhoff, A pupil of Rodin, and married her the following year.
  • The same year as the two married, Rilke’s daughter, Ruth, was born.
  • Rilke’s marriage to Westhoff was short-lived, yet he never divorced.

Rilke in Paris

In 1902, Rilke heads to Paris and joins an art colony at Worpswede.

His wife, an art pupil, enables Rilke’s introduction to Rodin, whom he eventually becomes the secretary for.

During his time in France he was working on his next work, Das Buch der Bilder (1902-1906).

By 1903, though, Rodin had already inspired Rilke’s next work…


Neue Gedichte

Rilke was impressed with how hard Rodin worked to let others be privy to his art.

Rilke’s writings of this time were indicative of a shift from poems “not about feelings, but about things he had felt.”

His new poetry was very inward focused, and although he shifted his poetic style, he never really converted to modernism.

He may be considered “the last symbolist” because the explosion of German expressionism had not deeply impacted his writings.


Der Panther

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält. Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte, der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht, ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte, in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille sich lautlos auf-. Dann geht ein Bild hinein, geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille- und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.


Twelve Years of Silence

After Paris, Rilke traveled throughout Europe, trying to find a home in many different cities.

In 1910, Rilke produced Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge, a series of works that creatively drained him.

It would be another twelve years before he revisited the public with a new piece of work.


In 1910, Rilke visited his friend Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe at Duino in her castle off the coast of the Adriatic. He returned there the following year…


Before returning to the castle where his thoughts were flying freely, he attended a psychological congress in Munich, with his dearest Lou Salomé.

This is where Rilke became acquainted with Sigmund Freud.


In Duino, Rilke’s ideas were flowing and his next masterpiece was in the making. His second trip to was cut short though. The war had begun and, in 1913, Rilke was forced back to Germany to serve in the military.

Upon his return to Germany, many of his belongings were seized in Paris.

"He who does not at some time, with definite determination consent to the terribleness of life, or even exalt in it, never takes possession of the inexpressible fullness of the power of our existence."


After leaving the military, Rilke decided to settle in Muzot, Switzerland.

This is where he finishes Duineser Elegien that he had been working on for ten years –since his visits to the castle.

In that same year, 1922, Rilke produces Die Sonette an Orpheus –written in only two weeks yet one of his most recognized works.


From Sonnets to Orpheus

II, 23

Rufe mich zu jener deiner Stunden, die dir unaufhörlich widersteht: flehend nah wie das Gesicht von Hunden, aber immer wieder weggedreht,

Wenn du neinst, sie endlich zu erfassen. So Entzognes ist am meisten dein. Wir sind frei. Wir wurden dort entlassen, wo wir meinten, erst begrüßt zu sein.

Bang verlangen wir nach einem Halte, wir zu Jungen manchmal für das Alte und zu alt für das, was niemals war.

Wir, gerecht nur, wo wir dennoch preisen, weil wir, ach, der Ast sind und das Eisen und das Süße reifender Gefahr.


Rilke suffered through the last years of his life from his battle with cancer. He died of leukemia on December 29,1926 in Valmont, Switzerland.

"What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are."


Rilke’s influence on others is imminent. Some of which are: Sidney Keyes, Robert Bly, W.S. Merwin, John Ashbery, and W.H. Auden


Picture Credits:


Works Cited

Rilke. Selected Poems. Translations: C.F. MacIntyre. 1960 University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Rilke. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Translations: Stephen Mitchell. 1989. Vintage International Books, New York.