More from and about
Rainer Maria Rilke
(biographical info at bottom of page)

  

There are no classes in life for beginners;
right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.

   

Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.  The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and, as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity.

      
What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it.  In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us.  Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.
  
The longer I live, the more necessary it seems to me to endure, to copy the whole dictation of existence to the end, for it might be that only the last sentence contains that small, perhaps inconspicuous word through which all laboriously learned and not understood orients itself toward glorious sense.
  
  
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
   

I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people:  that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.  For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude.  And only those are the true sharings which rhythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.

     

But now that so much is changing, is it not up to us
to change ourselves?  Could we not develop ourselves a little,
and slowly take upon ourselves our share of work in love, little by little?

   

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Believe that with your feelings and your work you are
taking part in the greatest; the more strongly you cultivate this belief,
the more will reality and the world go forth from it.

   

For as yet I did not understand fame, that public destruction
of one in the process of becoming, into whose building-ground
the mob breaks, displacing his stones.

   

Oh, how I believe in it, in life.  Not that which makes up our time, but that
other, the life of little things, the life of animals and of the great plains.

   
    
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague on December 4, 1875, 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 1906, 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.
  

  

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