In 1922, Rainer Maria Rilke was staying at the Chateau de Muzot in Switzerland. His masterwork, the "Duino Elegies," had lain unfinished for seven years, and the poet was hoping to find some peace and solitude in which to complete it.... [more]
In 1922, Rainer Maria Rilke was staying at the Chateau de Muzot in Switzerland. His masterwork, the "Duino Elegies," had lain unfinished for seven years, and the poet was hoping to find some peace and solitude in which to complete it. Rilke had recently come across a Renaissance painting of the mythical poet Orpheus just a few months after a young friend, Vera Knoop, had died very suddenly. These seemingly unrelated factors set the stage for what may be seen today as a moment of divine inspiration. On February 2, as he sat reading Ovid's "Metamorphoses," he was seized by what he later called "a hurricane in the spirit." For nearly three weeks he lived in the throes of a strange possession. On February 23, Rilke emerged, bearing in hand not only six more elegies, but also several shorter poems and the 64 "Sonnets to Orpheus." They were nearly perfect; only a few words needed to be changed. As Rilke translator Steven Mitchell has written, "the whole experience seems to have taken place at an archaic level of consciousness, where the poet is literally the god's or muse's scribe."
Rilke's work traverses with extraordinary grace the boundaries between the human mind and that of the deity, between the material and the spiritual worlds, between truth and beauty. His books, from "Stories of God" (1900) to the existential "Journal of My Other Self" (1910) to the strange and beautiful "Duino Elegies" (1922), describe and embody the mystic seeker's varied pathways.
Born in Prague, Rilke spoke and wrote in German (the language of his parents), but as a wanderer of the world, he came to know many languages and met many great artists. While traveling in Russia, he visited Tolstoy; while living in Paris, he served as secretary to the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Convinced of the mystical nature of the creative process, he rejected the modern invention of psychoanalysis and lived as a latter-day Orpheus, writing lyric poems that sing with a supernatural power. [show less]