poem index

About this poet

On December 4, 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague, the only child of an unhappy marriage. Rilke's childhood was also unhappy; his parents placed him in military school with the desire that he become an officer—a position Rilke was not inclined to hold. With the help of his uncle, who realized that Rilke was a highly gifted child, Rilke left the military academy and entered a German preparatory school. By the time he enrolled in Charles University in Prague in 1895, he knew that he would pursue a literary career: he had already published his first volume of poetry, Leben und Lieder, the previous year. At the turn of 1895-96, Rilke published his second collection, Larenopfer (Sacrifice to the Lares). A third collection, Traumgekrönt (Dream-Crowned) followed in 1896. That same year, Rilke decided to leave the university for Munich, Germany, and later made his first trip to Italy.

In 1897, Rilke went to Russia, a trip that would prove to be a milestone in Rilke's life, and which marked the true beginning of his early serious works. While there the young poet met Tolstoy, whose influence is seen in Das Buch vom lieben Gott und anderes (Stories of God), and Leonid Pasternak, the nine-year-old Boris's father. At Worpswede, where Rilke lived for a time, he met and married Clara Westhoff, who had been a pupil of Rodin. In 1902 he became the friend, and for a time the secretary, of Rodin, and it was during his twelve-year Paris residence that Rilke enjoyed his greatest poetic activity. His first great work, Das Stunden Buch (The Book of Hours), appeared in 1905, followed in 1907 by Neue Gedichte (New Poems) and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge). Rilke would continue to travel throughout his lifetime; to Italy, Spain and Egypt among many other places, but Paris would serve as the geographic center of his life, where he first began to develop a new style of lyrical poetry, influenced by the visual arts.

When World War I broke out, Rilke was obliged to leave France and during the war he lived in Munich. In 1919, he went to Switzerland where he spent the last years of his life. It was here that he wrote his last two works, the Duino Elegies (1923) and the Sonnets to Orpheus (1923). He died of leukemia on December 29, 1926. At the time of his death his work was intensely admired by many leading European artists, but was almost unknown to the general reading public. His reputation has grown steadily since his death, and he has come to be universally regarded as a master of verse.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Das Buch der Bilder (The Book of Images) (1902)
Das Stunden Buch (Book of Hours) (1905)
Neue Gedichte (New Poems) (1907)
Requiem (1909)
Das Marienleben (The Life of the Virgin Mary) (1913)
Die Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus) (1923)
Duineser Elegen (Duino Elegies) (1923)
Späte Gedichte (Later Poems) (1934)
Poemes Francais (French Poems) (1935)
Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties (1975)
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1981)
New Poems (1984)
Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems (1985)
The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1996)

Prose

Das Buch vom lieben Gott und anderes (Stories of God) (1900)
Auguste Rodin (1903)
Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornet Christopher Rilke (1906)
Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Lourids Brigge) (1910)
Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1960)
Letters on Cezanne (1985)
Rilke and Benvenuta: An Intimate Correspondence (1987)
Letters to a Young Poet (1993)
Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke (1995)

Archaic Torso of Apollo

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 - 1926
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library. © 1995 by Stephen Mitchell. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

Born in Prague on December 4, 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke is recognized by many as a master of verse

by this poet

poem

Is he native to this realm? No,
his wide nature grew out of both worlds.
They more adeptly bend the willow's branches
who have experience of the willow's roots.

When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
on the table: it attracts the dead--
But may he, this quiet
poem
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone 
    enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small 
    enough
to be to you just object and thing, 
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying 
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg