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Rainer Maria Rilke


Rainer Maria Rilke is, of course, best known as one of the foremost twentieth century poets but he also wrote a first-class novel, Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Rilke was born in Prague in what was then Austria, in 1875, the son of a railway official. His mother called him Sophie and dressed him in girl’s clothes till he was five. His father subsequently sent him to a military academy but he was very unhappy there. He studied at universities in Prague, Berlin and Munich. He published his first book of poems in 1894. In 1897 he met Lou Andreas-Salomé in Munich and they had a passionate love affair. He travelled with her to Russia (where he met Tolstoy) and was very much influenced by Russian religion. He became increasingly dependent on her and the relationship ended.

In 1902 he married Clara Westhoff, one of Auguste Rodin‘s pupils and a close friend of the sculptress Paula Becker whom Rilke had got to know at the artists colony of Worpswede. (Adrienne Rich wrote a famous poem about the friendship between Westhoff and Becker.) They had a daughter, Ruth, but the marriage only lasted a year. In 1902 Rilke travelled to Paris where he met Rodin who had considerable influence on Rilke’s work. He was mainly based in Paris for the next twelve years, though he did travel a lot. During this period he produced much of his great work, including the work of fiction, Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge) and his idea of the Ding-Gedicht (“object poem”).

However, his hard work made him so depressed that he almost gave up writing. He served briefly in the Austrian Army during World War I and then moved to Switzerland where he lived in the Chäteau de Muzot from 1921. He quickly finished the Duino Elegies, his finest work, and wrote the Sonnets to Orpheus. He remained there for the rest of his life, apart from a long stay in Paris in 1925. However, he was suffering from acute myelogenous leukemia, which was only diagnosed shortly before his death. He returned to Switzerland and died in a sanatorium in Territet in 1926.

Books about Rainer Maria Rilke

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of books on Rilke. The following are the best introductions to his life and work in English:
Willem Laurens Graff: Rainer Maria Rilke: Creative Anguish of a Modern Poet
Ralph Freedman: Life of A Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke
J. F. Hendry: The Sacred Threshold – A Life of Rilke
E. F. N. Jephcott: Proust and Rilke, the Literature of Expanded Consciousness.
Wolfgang Leppmann: Rilke: a Life
Donald A. Prater: A Ringing Glass: the Life of Rainer Maria Rilke

Other links

Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke
(in German)
Review of above biography
A Brief Rilke biography
Big Three (review of the letters of Rilke, Pasternak and Tsvetayeva
Rilke’s grave (photo)
Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Rilke, Rainer Maria (in German)
Leben und literarisches Werk von Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)

Texts of his works
The Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke
Texte von Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Die Gedichte von Rainer Maria Rilke (in German)
Die Duineser Elegien (in German)
Sonettten (in German)


1894 Leben und Lieder
1894 Wegwarten
1896 Larenopfer (Larenopfer)
1897 Im Frühfrost
1897 Traumgekrönt
1898 Advent
1898 Am Leben hin
1898 Zwei Prager Geschichten
1899 Mir zur Feier
1900 Von Lieben Gott und Anderes
1902 Die Letzten
1902 Das Buch der Bilder (The Book of Images)
1902 Das tägliche Leben
1903 Worpswede
1904 Geschichten vom lieben Gott (Stories of God)
1905 Das Stunden-Buch (Book of Hours)
1906 Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornet Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke)
1907 Auguste Rodin (Rodin)
1907 Neue Gedichte (New Poems)
1908 Der neuen Gedichte anderer Teil
1909 Requiem (Requiem and Other Poems)
1910 Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)
1913 Das Marien-Leben (Life of the Virgin Mary)
1920 Die Weisse Fürstin
1923 Die Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus)
1923 Duineser Elegen (Duino Elegies)
1926 Verger: suivis des quatrains valaisans
1927 Les Fenêtres (The Windows)
1927 Les Roses (The Roses)
1929 Ewald Tragy
1934 Späte Gedichte (Later Poems)
1935 Poèmes Français (French Poems
1978 Poems 1906-1926
Note that there are many translations of Rilke’s poems into English with titles like Selected Poems