Rainer Maria Rilke  

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"German philosopher Martin Heidegger cites Rilke as an example of the highest form of thinker in his essay "What Are Poets For?" The essay's theme is largely explored through the examination of an "improvised verse" (short poem) Rilke wrote in 1924. Heidegger, often considered the most influential thinker of the 20th century, ranks Rilke in the German poetic tradition as second only to Friedrich Hölderlin."

"As long as you catch what you yourself have thrown"

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a BohemianAustrian poet. 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. Among English-language readers, his best-known work is the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland.



In the summer of 1902, Rilke left home and traveled to Paris to write a monograph on the sculptor Auguste Rodin

Rilke's influence

  • German philosopher Martin Heidegger cites Rilke as an example of the highest form of thinker in his essay "What Are Poets For?" The essay's theme is largely explored through the examination of an "improvised verse" (short poem) Rilke wrote in 1924. Heidegger, often considered the most influential thinker of the 20th century, ranks Rilke in the German poetic tradition as second only to Friedrich Hölderlin.


  • Rilke is mentioned several times in the short stories of Raymond Carver's collection, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
  • Rilke has also been celebrated in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, William Gaddis' voluminous novel The Recognitions, and William H. Gass' epic, controversial novel The Tunnel, in which the main character makes repeated reference to his interest in Rilke's poetry. Rilke is also referred to in Julia Alvarez's novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.
  • J.D. Salinger alludes to Rilke in various works, including the novel Franny and Zooey and the short story A Perfect Day for Bananafish.
  • Audrey Niffenegger mentions and quotes from Rilke frequently in The Time Traveler's Wife.
  • Douglas Coupland quotes Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet in Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
  • A Rilke translation inspired Lost in Translation, a celebrated 1974 poem by James Merrill.
  • Colin Wilson mentions Rikle's work numerous times in The Outsider.
  • Jo Shapcott's collection of poems, Tender Taxes, is based on a series of Rilke's poems written in French.
  • Rilke's poetry highly influenced the life and writings of Etty Hillesum.
  • The Iranian modernist writer Sadegh Hedayat was deeply moved by Rilke's meditations on death.
  • Chilean novelist Germán Marín's trilogy Un animal mudo levanta la vista is named for a verse in the eighth Duino Elegy.
  • Rilke's "Sonnets to Orpheus" was inspiration for W. H. Auden's Journey to a War, published in 1939.
  • Rilke was mentioned in Tennessee William's The Two-Character Play
  • The relationship of Rilke and Clara Westhoff and her early death is the subject Adrienne Rich's poem, "Paula Becker to Clara Westhoff". As the epigraph states, "Paula Becker 1876-1907 Clara Westhoff 1878-1954 became friends at Worpswede, an artist's colony near Bremen, Germany, summer 1899. In January 1900, spent a half-year together in Paris, where Paula painted and Clara studied sculpture with Rodin. In August they returned to Worpswede, and spent the next winter together in Berlin. In 1901, Clara married the poet Rainer Maria Rilke; soon after, Paula married the painter Otto Modersohn. She died in a hemorrhage after childbirth, murmuring, What a shame!" Dream of a Common Language, Norton
  • The title of Laying out the Body by Lucien Jenkins Seren Books, 1989 is taken from Rilke's 'Leichen-Wäsche', and that poem is translated within the collection, which also contains other work by Rilke.
  • The title of Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books by Canadian author and academic Ted Bishop is in reference to Rilke, who is mentioned briefly in the book.
  • Jane Fonda quotes Rilke numerous times in her autobiography My Life So Far.
  • In Milan Kundera's novel Immortality Rilke is called to the Eternal Trial of Goethe, relating to Goethe's treatment of Bettina, and Kundera quotes a passage from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge as Rilke's testimony.
  • Mexican composer, Sergio Cardenas wrote Un Rap para Mozart (A Rap to Mozart). A book about musical anecdotes with a deep and personal point of view on some compositions of his own as well as Bach’s, Bruckner’s, and Mozart’s of course. Rilke’s poetry is quoted in translations made by the composer himself. In a chapter called "El Aplauso" ("The Ovation"), fragments from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge are quoted and discussed. The whole book, as the composer declared himself, is haunted by Rilke’s spiritual influence.
  • Maxine Hong Kingston refers to Rilke several times in her book Tripmaster Monkey.
  • The novel Lost Son by M. Allen Cunningham (2007) tells the story of Rilke's life from birth to age 42.
  • "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", a 1963 story by Roger Zelazny, features the main character quoting Rilke's poem "Spanish Dancer."
  • The title and basic idea of Predrag Matvejevic's The Other Venice (2002, English translation 2007) was taken from Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
  • The Triestine main character in Susanna Tamaro's Anima Mundi (1997, English translation 2007) refers to the fundamental influence of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and The Duino Elegies in his life.
  • In Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide, a major character (Nirmal) is a fan of Rilke's verses, and excerpts feature prominently in the text.
  • Philip Roth's 1972 novella The Breast concludes with Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo." The main character, an English professor, believes that his story will "illuminate these great lines for those of you new to the poem."
  • The short story Chac Mool by Mexican literary Carlos Fuentes references Rilke.


  • During several episodes of the TV show "Beauty and the Beast," starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton, Rilke's poems were quoted many times.
  • Rilke was quoted by Lex Luthor in Smallville, Season Three, in the episode "Legacy," where Lex said, "It's like the German poet Rilke said - 'a person isn't who they are during the last conversation you had with them - they're who they've been throughout your whole relationship'."


  • Wim Wenders cites Rilke as the inspiration behind his angels in Wings of Desire.
  • Rilke's poem The Panther is quoted in the 1990 film Awakenings (based on the 1973 book of the same name by neurologist and author Oliver Sacks), expressing the emotional undertone of the story.
  • In the 1993 movie Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, actress Whoopi Goldberg refers to Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.
  • Rilke is quoted in Kissing Jessica Stein by a woman looking for a woman in a personal ad. This quote is what moves the main character, Jessica, to answer the ad, despite her presumed heterosexuality.
  • Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo" is quoted by Miriam, played by Gena Rowlands, in Woody Allen's 1988 film Another Woman.
  • Rilke's poem You Who Never Arrived is quoted by Faith, played by Marisa Tomei, in Norman Jewison's 1994 film Only You.
  • Rilke is referenced pejoratively in the film Igby Goes Down when Igby, played by Kieran Culkin says, "Every Christmas, some asshole gives me this copy of Young Poet with this patronizing note on the flap about how it's supposed to change my life."
  • "Rain", the Juliette Lewis character in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives is named after Rilke.
  • "For the sake of a single poem" an animated short by Shamik Majumdar (India 1999, National Institute of Design) is based on an excerpt from Rilke's book, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
  • Rilke's quote "For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, [...] the work for which all other work is but preparation" is quoted before the end credits in Katherine Brooks's OUTFEST award winning 2006 film Loving Annabelle. Also, Rilke's poem "Buddha in Glory" is read in one scene.
  • In the 2008 film "Synecdoche", Caden awakens on the first day of fall to a full reading of Stephen Mitchell's English translation of Rilke's "Autumn Day" on his clock radio.


  • The indie rock band Rainer Maria takes its name from Rilke, and at least some of their merchandise bears the poet's image.
  • The Cocteau Twins song "Rilkean Heart", on the 1996 album Milk and Kisses, is an homage to Jeff Buckley who was a lifelong lover of Rilke's work.
  • The Swiss composer Frank Martin set Rilke's prose "Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke"(The lay of the love and death of cornet Christopher Rilke)to orchestral song circle in German,premiered in February 1945. Viktor Ullmann,an Austrian composer,also composed this prose.
  • The British composer Oliver Knussen has set texts of Rainer Maria Rilke to music in his unaccomapanied Rilke songs and in Requiem: Songs for Sue.
  • The Trieste-based British composer Baron Raffaello de Banfield Tripcovich set several poems of Rilke for soprano and large orchestra, including 'Serale' and 'Liebeslied' (1968), 'Der Tod des Geliebten' and 'Der Sturm' (1972), and 'Four Rilke songs' (1986).
  • The Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich set several of Rilke's poems to music in his Symphony No. 14.
  • The American contemporary composer Morten Lauridsen set five of Rilke's French-language "Rose" poems to music in a choral piece titled Les Chansons des Roses.
  • The contemporary Danish composer Per Nørgård has set the Rilke sonnet to Orpheus "Singe die Gärten" as the second and final movement of his 3rd symphony.
  • The contemporary Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim has set Rilke's "Todeserfahrung" in his Wirklicher Wald.
  • In 2006, Pianist Brad Mehldau wrote a cycle of art songs for soprano and piano based on seven poems from Rilke's The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. Mehldau premiered the work with Renée Fleming at Carnegie Hall in 2006, which was recorded and released on the album Love Sublime.
  • The German composer Paul Hindemith set Six Chansons, 6 pieces for a cappella choir, of the French poetry by Rilke (1939), as well as the imposing German language song cycle Das Marienleben (1922, revised 1948).
  • Composer Sofia Gubaidulina, a great admirer of Rilke's work, includes the beginning of "Vom Tode Mariä I" (Derselbe große Engel, welcher einst) at the end of her piece Stufen.
  • Robert Hunter, best known for his work with The Grateful Dead, translated The Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. The Sonnets translation is a rhymed translation. He also recorded readings of his translations, the Duino Elegies recording was made with keyboardist Tom Constanten.
  • Indie rock group CocoRosie's song Terrible Angels mentions Rilke.
  • Contemporary rock group Sixpence None the Richer's song entitled "Still Burning" was influenced by Rilke's imagery of the heart as a hand.
  • Chicago jazz vocalist Kurt Elling combined a Rilke poem with a melody from the Dave Brubeck Quartet to form his song "Those Clouds Are Heavy, You Dig?"
  • The American country music songwriter and vocalist, Ray Wylie Hubbard, quotes Rilke in his song "The Messenger."
  • Band Eyeless in Gaza singer Martyn Bates worked with Anne Clark set poems by Rilke to music on the album "Just After Sunset" in 2002.
  • Composer Libby Larsen set a Rilke poem "Liebeslied" to accompany 5 other songs in her song cycle, Beloved, Thou Hast Brought Me Many Flowers.
  • American country songwriter/musician Rodney Crowell mentions "Rilke's Panther" in his song "Come On Funny Feeling," from the 2003 critically acclaimed Fate's Right Hand album: "I don't want to wind up bitter lost inside a silent rage / Or become like Rilke's panther out here locked up in a cage...."
  • The composer Harrison Birtwistle has set some of the Sonnets to Orpheus in his piece 'Orpheus Elegies' for Oboe, Harp and Counter-tenor.
  • The german composer Bertold Hummel wrote 1980 a song for voice and piano after the famous poem Autumn Day by Rilke. [1]


  • Fragments of Rilke's poetry are inscribed in certain paintings by Cy Twombly.
  • In 1968, American artist Ben Shahn illustrated a set of verses from Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge called For the Sake of a Single Verse...



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