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Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke Rainer Maria Rilke[1†]

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), originally born as René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, an Austrian poet and novelist, born in Prague, Bohemia (now Czech Republic), is acclaimed for his mystically charged poetry exploring subjective experience. His notable works include "Duino Elegies," "Sonnets to Orpheus," and "Letters to a Young Poet." Rilke's writings, encompassing poetry, a novel, and correspondence, are celebrated for their lyrical intensity and innovative use of language. His legacy endures as scholars and readers continue to appreciate his expressive and profound literary contributions[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Rainer Maria Rilke was the only son of a not-too-happy marriage[2†][4†]. His father, Josef, was a civil servant who was frustrated in his career[2†][4†]. His mother, the daughter of an upper-middle-class merchant and imperial councillor, was a difficult woman who felt that she had married beneath her[2†][4†]. After their marriage failed in 1884, his mother moved to Vienna to be close to the imperial court[2†].

Rilke’s education was ill-planned and fragmentary[2†]. His parents had decided that he should become an officer to assure him the social standing that his father could not achieve[2†]. As a result, after spending some years at a rather select school run by the Piarist brothers of Prague, he was enrolled in the military lower Realschule of Sankt Pölten (Austria) and four years later entered the military upper Realschule at Mährisch-Weisskirchen (Bohemia)[2†]. These schools were completely at variance with the needs of this highly sensitive boy, and he finally was forced to leave the school prematurely because of poor health[2†]. Rilke referred to these years as a time of merciless affliction, a "primer of horror"[2†].

After another futile year spent at the Academy of Business Administration at Linz (1891–92), Rilke, with the energetic help of a paternal uncle, was able to straighten out his misguided educational career[2†]. In the summer of 1895, he completed the course of studies at the German Gymnasium (a school designed to prepare for the university) of the Prague suburb of Neustadt[2†]. By the time he left school, Rilke had already published a volume of poetry (1894), and he had no doubt that he would pursue a literary career[2†]. Matriculating at Prague’s Charles University in 1895, he enrolled in courses in German literature and art history[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Rainer Maria Rilke began publishing his literary pieces in the 1890s[5†]. His first volume of poetry, “Leben und Lieder” (Life and Songs), was published in 1894[5†]. This was followed by “Larenopfer” (Offerings to the Lares, 1895) and “Traumgekrönt” (Dream-Crowned, 1897)[5†]. He also began his extensive travels in the 1890s[5†].

Rilke is acclaimed for creating the ‘object poem’, an attempt to describe with utmost clarity physical objects, the 'silence of their concentrated reality’[5†][6†]. His poetic achievement – the “New Poems”, the “Duino Elegies”, the “Sonnets to Orpheus” – and, in prose, the “Cornet” and the astonishing “Malte Laurids Brigge”, were works that made a lasting mark on European literature[5†][7†].

Rilke traveled extensively throughout Europe, finally settling in Switzerland[5†][1†]. While Rilke is best known for his contributions to German literature, he also wrote in French[5†][1†]. Among English-language readers, his best-known works include two poetry collections: “Duino Elegies” (“Duineser Elegien”) and “Sonnets to Orpheus” (“Die Sonette an Orpheus”), a semi-autobiographical novel “The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge” (“Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge”), and a collection of ten letters published posthumously “Letters to a Young Poet” (“Briefe an einen jungen Dichter”)[5†][1†].

In the later 20th century, his work found new audiences in citations by self-help authors and frequent quotations in television shows, books, and motion pictures[5†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Rainer Maria Rilke’s literary career was marked by numerous significant publications that showcased his lyrical talent and profound exploration of human experience[1†][2†].

Each of these works contributed to Rilke’s reputation as a significant writer in the German language and helped shape his legacy in the world of literature[1†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Rainer Maria Rilke’s work is characterized by its intense lyricism and the unique use of language[9†][3†]. His bold and creative use of language, along with his departures from traditional grammar and syntax, have made him a controversial figure in the world of literature[9†].

Rilke’s work often explores themes of beauty, suffering, life, and death[9†][3†]. His aesthetic philosophy rejected Christian precepts and sought to reconcile these themes[9†][3†]. His work is marked by a search for impressions that could be turned into poetry[9†]. For Rilke, art was what mattered most in life[9†].

His narrative prose is informed by the rich symbolic content and specific themes that characterize his famous lyrics[9†]. His novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, is one of Rilke’s most profound creations[9†]. Written from the point of view of a young Danish nobleman living in exile in Paris, it offers a peculiar summation of the central concerns of the author’s literary art[9†].

Rilke’s plays reflect the influence of various literary movements, from materialistic determinism to Symbolism[9†]. His best-remembered play, The White Princess, illustrates his view that drama and poetry have similar goals[9†].

Rilke’s work has had a significant impact on twentieth-century German poetry[9†]. His efforts to expand the realm of poetry through new uses of syntax and imagery have made him one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets[9†][3†].

In conclusion, Rilke’s work is characterized by its lyrical intensity, innovative use of language, and exploration of complex themes. His contributions to German literature have left a lasting legacy[9†][3†].

Personal Life

Rilke was born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke in Prague, the capital of Bohemia (then part of Austria-Hungary, now the capital of the Czech Republic)[1†]. His childhood and youth in Prague were not always happy. His father, Josef Rilke (1838–1906), found employment as a railway official after an unsuccessful military career. His mother, Sophie (“Phia”) Entz (1851–1931), was from a well-to-do family in Prague[1†]. The relationship between Phia and her only son was colored by her mourning for an earlier infant daughter who died within one week[1†]. During Rilke’s early years, Phia acted as if she sought to recover the lost daughter by treating Rilke as if he were a girl[1†]. According to Rilke, he had to wear “fine clothes” and "was a plaything for his mother[[?]], like a big doll"[1†].

His parents’ marriage ended in 1884[1†]. Rilke’s parents wanted the artistically-inclined youngster to join the military[1†][5†]. However, he thanked his mother for showing him the right path to success[1†][10†].

At Worpswede, where Rilke lived for a time, he met and married Clara Westhoff, who had been a pupil of Auguste Rodin[1†][11†]. In 1902, he became the friend and, for a time, the secretary of Rodin[1†][11†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Rainer Maria Rilke, with his lyrical intensity and innovative use of syntax and imagery, is widely recognized as one of the most significant poets in the German language[3†]. His aesthetic philosophy, which rejected Christian precepts and sought to reconcile beauty and suffering, life and death, expanded the realm of poetry[3†]. His work has had a lasting impact on the literary world and continues to influence artists and writers[3†][12†].

Rilke’s nomadic existence led him through Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy, and France, until his death in Switzerland from leukemia[3†][7†]. Despite the challenges of his personal life, he dedicated himself exclusively to his art, remaining receptive to the most varied influences of European culture[3†][7†]. His legacy is not only found in his published works but also in the profound influence he had on future generations of writers and artists[3†][12†].

Rilke’s enduring legacy is a testament to his unique talent and dedication to his craft. His work continues to be celebrated and studied for its depth, complexity, and contribution to literature[3†][13†][2†][3†][12†][7†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Rainer Maria Rilke [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Rainer Maria Rilke: Austrian-German poet [website] - link
  3. Poetry Foundation - Rainer Maria Rilke [website] - link
  4. ThoughtCo - Biography of Rainer Maria Rilke, Austrian Poet [website] - link
  5. The Famous People - Rainer Maria Rilke Biography [website] - link
  6. All Poetry - Rainer Maria Rilke - Poems by the Famous Poet [website] - link
  7. Oxford Academic - Oxford Academic - A Ringing Glass: The Life of Rainer Maria Rilke [website] - link
  8. Cambridge University Press - Rainer Maria Rilke's The Book of Hours - Chapter: Commentary and Notes [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Rainer Maria Rilke Analysis [website] - link
  10. SunSigns - Rainer Maria Rilke Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  11. Academy of American Poets - About Rainer Maria Rilke [website] - link
  12. The Marginalian - The Invention of Empathy: Rilke, Rodin, and the Art of “Inseeing” [website] - link
  13. Poetry Foundation - From “You Must Change Your Life: The Story of… [website] - link
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