1875 - 1926
Born December 4, 1875 in Prague, Rilke was a romantic poet. His early work is brooding and self-centered, but after he moved to Paris and worked under Rodin, he gained an intense interest in work and in things.
Some of his famous works are his New Poems, the Duino Elegies, and the Sonnets to Orpheus. I was introduced to his work through his Letters to a Young Poet, a collection of ... well, just what it says. He also wrote a novel called The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Interesting fact: His mother wanted a girl and dressed him in girl's clothing for as long as she could get away with it.
another Interesting fact: He changed his name from René to Rainer at the urging of Lou Andreas-Salomé, when they were lovers.

He wrote his own epitaph:

Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one's sleep under so many
lids.

Here's a bit of a letter he wrote in 1920 about his time in Munich:
"I cannot and could not take anything back, not for a moment, not in any direction can I reject, or hate, or make suspect ... My only part in this whole thing is suffering. Suffering in sympathy, suffering in prospect, and suffering in retrospect too. Soon I shall be all played out...I have done no work at all. My heart just stopped, like a clock. The pendulum had swung against the hand of misery, and was checked."
Compare that with a few lines of later poetry :
Change, though the world may as fast / as cloud-collections, / home to the changeless / at last fall all perfections. (I, xix. Sonnets to Orpheus)
W.H. Auden wrote of Rainer Maria, "And Rilke whom 'die Dinge' bless / The Santa Claus of loneliness" in one of his more didactic poems, going on to compare him to such grim luminaries as Baudelaire and Friedrich Nietzsche. For example, regarding that Miss Lonelyhearts analogy of Auden's, here's another part of Sonnets to Orpheus:
Anticipate all farewells, as if they were / behind you like the winter, now going past. (II, xiii.)
Or, the last stanza of 'Autumn Day' :
Whose house is not built now shall build no more,
who now is lonely shall long be alone,
shall lie awake, and read, long letters write,
and restlessly, among the drifting leaves
of avenues wander to and fro.
A few brief life details :

1875 : b. in Prague, Dec. 4th.
1886-1890 : Military school (yuck!) abroad.
1892 : returns to Prague.
1894 : Publishes Leben und Lieder.
1896 : Moves to Munich.
1897 : in May meets Lou Andreas-Salome for the first time, then Oct. moves to Berlin.
1898 : spends spring in Italy.
1899 : first summer visit to Russia.
1901 : Marries Clara Westhoff, a sculptor, who bears his first child that December.
1902 : Move to Paris and starts hanging with Rodin; publishes Das Buch der Bilder.
1903: Publishes Auguste Rodin.
1904 : the Rilkes move to Rome.
1906 : Back to Paris.
1907 - 1916 : Many literary travels & visits to Capri, Italy (where he publishes a translation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets of the Portugeuse), Munich, Algiers, Naples and Venice finally lead up to WWI and military service in Vienna.
1919 : Living and lecturing in Switzerland.
1923 : Nursing home in Switzerland; publishes Die Sonette an Orpheus.
1926 : Rilke dies Dec. 29th at Val-Mont of leukemia.

Sources :
1. Holthusen, Hans Egon. Rainer Maria Rilke; a study of his later poetry, tr. by J.P. Stern. (Cambridge, Bowes & Bowes, 1952)
2. Butler, Eliza Marian. Rainer Maria Rilke. (Cambridge, 1946.)
No one can speak of the beauty of solitude like Rainer Maria Rilke. In Letters to a Young Poet, he creates magical poetry in the artful form of a letter. As he writes these letters to an unknown poet , his voice reaches out and touches the reader's soul. He calls to the loneliness within you and teaches you to exult in it, and not to hide from it. His message is one of joy.


I don't want you to be without a greeting from me when Christmas comes and when
you, in the midst of the holiday, are bearing your solitude more heavily than usual. But
when you notice that it is vast, you should be happy; for what (you should ask
yourself) would a solitude be that was not vast; there is only one solitude, and it is
vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly
exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward
agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy. . . . But
perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is
painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not
confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To
walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours - that is what you must be able to
attain.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are able to endure.."

Rainer Maria Rilke is an intensely poetic, beautiful man, who once bordered on being a classic existentialist. He has said a great many things I like to keep in my pocket. Things like:

"...to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open windows and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return."


He also wrote, what is as yet my favourite poem, and I am seldom able to appreciate much poetry; I find it verbose and quite frankly, all too much the same. But this poem, is exquisite; it is called You who never arrived.

There are also some lesser known poems, such as

Though his later writings get a lot of attention, Rilke's early period is also cherished by many readers. Especially in Germany the poems he wrote between 1899 and 1903 are particularly praised as the work of a master. These poems were published together in the collection Das Stundenbuch, which is divided into three parts, Das Buch vom mönchischen Leben, Das Buch von der Pilgerschaft, and Das Buch von der Armut und vom Tode. These poems are very much concerned with the fin de siecle, with modernity, and with love, loneliness, and God. But yet these terms are misleading. The loneliness is less wallowing than solitude, God is less of a presence than an absence, addressed like a lover, and time is at once composed of eternal hours and fleeting moments.
There are English translations available but as is often the case with poetry, they don't really do the originals much justice. So for those of you who can read German, here follows the very first poem of the collection.


Da neigt sich die Stunde und rührt mich an
mit klarem, metallenem Schlag:
mir zittern die Sinne. Ich fühle: ich kann--
und fasse den plastischen Tag.

Nichts war vollendet, eh ich es erschaut,
ein jedes Werden stand still.
Meine Blicke sind reif, und wie eine Braut
kommt jedem das Ding, das er will.

Nichts ist mir zu klein und ich lieb es trotzdem
und mal es auf Goldgrund und groß,
und halte es hoch, und ich weiß nicht wem
löst es die Seele los...


The second poem is infinitely more famous, with its first line arguably the most well known clause he ever formulated....
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen

As a homage to Rilke, the painter Cy Twombly did a triptych titled Analysis of the Rose as Sentimental Despair. Described by the revered critic David Sylvester as 'a marvellous investigation into the possibilities of thick pink paint', it is a truly a visual equivalent of Rilke's elusive epitaph,

'ROSE, OH THE PURE CONTRADICTION, DELIGHT
OF BEING NO ONE'S SLEEP UNDER SO MANY LIDS
'

It was painted in 1985, when Twombly was beginning a line of enquiry into weeping matter on canvas - to be brought to a fireworks-like climax in his gesamtkunstwerke, 'Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor'. Unusually for Cy, there is little evidence of the hand in these markings. It is bruised, clotted, like some kind of natural stain or secretion. There is a curious, poignant tension between this dissolving melancholy and the casual scrawl on the plaques above, which can barely be deciphered as Rilke's epitaph in its original German.

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