Rainer Maria Rilke Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The life of René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke can be described in its entirety as a productive, if not always successful, search for fulfillment in reaction to an inhibiting, psychologically destructive childhood. Critical elements of Rilke’s early experience contributed to his development as a hypersensitive individual unsuited to the demands of practical existence. They include the rapid failure of his parents’ marriage; the rape of his personality by a mother who dressed him in feminine clothing and reared him for a time as a replacement for a lost daughter; a partial education in military academies and a school of commerce to which he could never adapt; and a brief exposure to the university world in Prague. The young Rilke responded to a continuing feeling of being out of place by trying diligently to become part of active cultural and artistic circles. While still a student, he published his first lyric anthology, composed Naturalistic plays, contributed literary reviews to newspapers and journals, and founded his own periodical. He also participated in cultural organizations, lecture presentations, readings of drama and poetry, and similar activities.

When Rilke left the university in 1896, he went to Munich. An incurable restlessness dictated his lifestyle from that time forward. His serious evolution as a writer began under the influence of significant figures whom he encountered in Munich; friendships with Jacob Wassermann and Wilhelm von Scholz were especially productive. Wassermann acquainted him with the writings of Jens Peter Jacobsen, which Rilke soon learned to treasure. Still more important was the...

(The entire section is 672 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rainer Maria Rilke (RIHL-kuh) was born on December 4, 1875, in Prague, Bohemia, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now in the Czech Republic), as René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke. His father, Josef Rilke, aspired to a military career, but circumstances forced him into an early retirement. His mother, Sophia Entz, grew up in an aristocratic atmosphere; her father had been a merchant and an imperial councillor. Dissatisfied with her husband’s humble social status, she attempted to create the illusion of affluence in the family.

Due in part to his mother’s pretentious and hypocritical display of Catholicism, Rilke later abandoned Christianity entirely. His hostile attitude toward established religion, combined with a genuine and profound spiritual tendency in his nature, was to lead Rilke to search for a divinity within and for a means to express it. This search for “God” contributed to some of the central images and themes in his writing.

Rilke’s personal and artistic development was seriously affected by another element in his mother’s personality. His mother, prior to giving birth to Rilke, had lost a female child; he then became the girl whom she never had. For his first five years, Rilke was kept in long curls and dresses and was given dolls with which to play.

Although their marriage was a troubled one almost from the start, Rilke’s parents separated in 1884, and in 1886 Rilke was sent to a military school, where he remained for five years. It was there that he began to write, as much from loneliness and desperation as from a desire to explore and represent the world around him. Rilke left military school in 1891, at the age of sixteen, ostensibly for health reasons. The next year, his parents sent him to trade school in Linz to prepare for a business career. In 1895, Rilke entered the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague as a philosophy major. Within six months, he had switched to law, and by September, 1896, he had left Prague for Munich to study art history.

While living in Prague, Rilke tried to establish himself as a writer. His style, however, was sentimental and imitative. Passionately interested in the theater, he wrote several plays heavily influenced by naturalism; two of them were performed at the German Volkstheater in Prague. Between 1894 and 1896, he also published three volumes of poetry.

In October of 1896, Rilke moved to Munich. There, he became acquainted with Lou Andreas-Salomé, a critic, novelist, and writer of philosophical essays. Married and fourteen years Rilke’s senior, she was to become one of the most influential people in his life. She would become his mistress, companion, teacher, and...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

As a lyric poet, Rainer Maria Rilke focuses on the microcosm of human consciousness. The past, a heightened state of awareness and inwardness, and the subtle play of intellectual distinctions are important aspects of his poetry. The extraordinary intensity of Rilke’s sensory and emotional perception combines with a unique and intuitive way of seeing things.

The specifically modern dimension of Rilke’s poetry lies in its view of the reality of humanity as something outside and apart from any conception of fate, as something beyond any given situation; what Rilke’s poetry expresses first and foremost is pure, unadulterated Being, feeling made tangible.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rainer Maria Rilke (RIHL-kuh) is the most important and influential German poet of the twentieth century; along with the Anglo-Irish William Butler Yeats and the French Paul Valéry, he caused a transformation of lyric poetry, opening up new directions and potentialities. He was born (baptized René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke) on December 4, 1875, in Prague, then within the dominion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the second largest administrative unit in Europe. The Rilke family had long been established as fairly prosperous land agents near Prague and claimed descent from a long line of Carinthian nobility. Rilke’s father had begun his adult life as a career military officer, but he was forced to resign his...

(The entire section is 1142 words.)