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Rainer Maria Rilke Edit Profile

also known as René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke

novelist , poet

Rainer Maria Rilke is considered one of the German language's greatest 20th century poets. His haunting images tend to focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety — themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose.


René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke was born in Prague, capital of Bohemia (then part of Austria-Hungary, now the Czech Republic) on the 4th of December 1875. He was the only child of a German-speaking family. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906), was a retired officer in the Austrian army who worked as a railroad official. His mother, Sophie ("Phia") Entz (1851–1931), was a socially ambitious and possessive woman. She came from a well-to-do Prague family, the Entz-Kinzelbergers, who lived in a house on the Herrengasse (Panská) 8, where René also spent many of his early years. A crucial fact in Rilke's life was that his mother called him Sophia and forced him to wear girl's clothes until he was aged five - thus compensating for the earlier loss of a baby daughter. However, his father gave him toy soldiers and dumbbells for exercise. Later Rilke blamed his mother for his dark childhood, but she also encouraged him to read and write poetry. Rilke also learned early many of Schiller's ballads by heart. His parent’s marriage fell apart in 1884 when Rilke was only nine.


Rilke spent his first four school years in a catholic monastic school in Prague. Even though Rilke was artistically and poetically talented, it was financially impossible for him to attend secondary school, and his parents forced him to attend the military academy of St. Pölten and Mahrisch-Weisskirchenn. He stayed there for five years from 1886 until 1891, when his illness made him to leave the academy.

In late 1891 his parents decided that he should attend trade school in Linz. Then Rilke was tutored for three years for his university entrance examinations and finally cleared the university entrance exam in 1895. Until 1897 he studied art, literature history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich. At that time, Rainer Maria Rilke published his first poems and dedicated more time to his literary work.


During his life Rilke worked as a poet and novelist. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety: themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets. He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. Rilke travelled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa, including Russia, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, and in his later years settled in Switzerland—settings that were key to the genesis and inspiration for many of his poems. While Rilke is most known for his contributions to German literature, over 400 poems were originally written in French and dedicated to the canton of Valais in Switzerland.


  • In the United States, Rilke is one of the more popular, best-selling poets—along with 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi (1207-1273), and 20th-century Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran (1883-1931). In popular culture, Rilke is frequently quoted or referenced in television programs, motion pictures, music and other works when these works discuss the subject of love or angels. Because of his work being described as "mystical", Rilke's works have also been appropriated for use by the New Age community and in self-help books. Rilke has been reinterpreted "as a master who can lead us to a more fulfilled and less anxious life".

    Rilke's work, and specifically, the Duino Elegies have been claimed as a deep influence by several poets and writers, including Galway Kinnell, Sidney Keyes, Stephen Spender, Robert Bly, W. S. Merwin, John Ashbery, novelist Thomas Pynchon and philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hans-Georg Gadamer. British poet W. H. Auden (1907–1973) has been described as "Rilke's most influential English disciple" and he frequently "paid homage to him" or used the imagery of angels in his work.


  • novel

    • Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Lourids Brigge) (1910)

  • 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)

  • Volume of poetry

    • Das Buch der Bilder (The Book of Images) (1902)

    • Das Stunden Buch (Book of Hours) (1905)

    • Neue Gedichte (New Poems) (1907)

    • Leben und Lieder (Life and Songs) (1894)

    • Larenopfer (Lares' Sacrifice) (1895)

    • Traumgekrönt (Dream-Crowned) (1897)

    • Advent (Advent) (1898)

    • Duineser Elegien (Duino Elegies) (1922)

    • Sonette an Orpheus (Sonnets to Orpheus) (1922)


In January and February 1926 Rilke wrote three letters to the Mussolini-adversary Aurelia Gallarati Scotti, in which he praised Benito Mussolini and described fascism as a healing agent.


  • Politicians

    Benito Mussolini


Josef Rilke (1838–1906) - military officer , railroad official

His father, Josef Rilke, became a railway official after an unsuccessful military career.

Sophie ("Phia") Entz (1851–1931)

Sophie Entz was the daughter of a bank official with the title of Imperial Counsellor.

Clara Westhoff (1878-1954)

In 1901 Rilke married Klara Westhoff, one of Auguste Rodin's pupils, whom he married the following spring. Their daughter Ruth (1901–1972) was born in December 1901.

Ruth Rilke (1901-1972)

Lou Andreas-Salomé

In 1897 in Munich, Rainer Maria Rilke met and fell in love with the widely traveled, intellectual woman of letters Lou Andreas-Salomé. Rilke changed his first name from "René" to "Rainer" at Lou's urging because she thought that name more masculine, forceful, and Germanic. His relationship with this married woman, with whom he undertook two extensive trips to Russia, lasted until 1900. But even after their separation, Lou continued to be Rilke's most important confidante until the end of his life. Having trained from 1912 to 1913 as a psychoanalyst with Sigmund Freud, she shared her knowledge of psychoanalysis with Rilke.

Leo Tolstoy - writer

In 1899, he traveled with Lou and her husband to Moscow where he met the novelist Leo Tolstoy.

Boris Pasternak - poet

Between May and August 1900, a second journey to Russia, accompanied only by Lou, again took him to Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where he met the family of Boris Pasternak and Spiridon Drozhzhin, a peasant poet. Later, "Rilke called two places his home: Bohemia and Russia".

Spiridon Drozhzhin - poet

Paula Modersohn-Becker - Photo-expressionist

His portrait was painted by the proto-expressionist Paula Modersohn-Becker, whom he had got to know at Worpswede.

Auguste Rodin - Sculptor

In the summer of 1902, Rilke left home and traveled to Paris to write a monograph on the sculptor Auguste Rodin. For a time he acted as Rodin's secretary, also lecturing and writing a long essay on Rodin and his work. Rodin taught him the value of objective observation, and under this influence Rilke dramatically transformed his poetic style from the subjective and sometimes incantatory language of his earlier work into something quite new in European literature.

Maxim Gorky - dramatist , writer

Rudolf Kassner - Philosopher , translator , writer

Marina Tsvetaeva - writer , poet

Werner Reinhart - Philanthropist , merchant, philanthropist

In May 1922, Rilke's patron Werner Reinhart bought and renovated Muzot so that Rilke could live there rent-free.

Alma Moodie - Violinist

Reinhart introduced Rilke to his protégée, the Australian violinist Alma Moodie. Rilke was so impressed with her playing that he wrote in a letter: "What a sound, what richness, what determination. That and the Sonnets to Orpheus, those were two strings of the same voice. And she plays mostly Bach! Muzot has received its musical christening..."