I sing to you, almost fatal birds of the soul,
knowing what you are.
Rainer Maria Rilke (full name: Rene Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke) (December 4, 1875 - December 29, 1926) was an Austrian poet, and one of the most famous writers of German poetry (though he also wrote a good deal in French.) He's also famous for a short collection of letters between him and a young poet who wrote to him for guidance (called Letters to a Young Poet that contains many meditations of poetry and the nature of poetry.
A prolific letter writer, many of his letters have been collected in several volumes.
- The Book of Hours (1899-1903)
- Duino Elegies (1922)
- Sonnets to Orpheus (1922)
- Letters to a Young Poet (1934)
His poetry contains examples of:
- Classical Mythology: A lot of characters from Greek myth (Orpheus, Apollo, Hermes) wander through Rilke's poems.
- Gender-Blender Name: Maria is an unremarkable middle name for men from Catholic countries.
- Lost in Translation: It can occur with Rilke's poems. There are many translations of his poems, especially of Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus, and the way the poems vary from translator to translator can make you wonder how much of Rilke's original intent is getting through.
- Raised as the Opposite Gender: Rilke's mother, in mourning after losing a baby daughter after a week of life, dressed Rilke in dresses throughout his early childhood.
- Reclusive Artist: He was a big fan of having his own space. Not to the extent of other artists (like Harper Lee or J.D. Salinger) as he did exchange a lot (a lot) of correspondence with readers and contemporary artists.
- Sanctuary of Solitude: The Muzot Castle in Switzerland, where Rilke wrote most of both Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies in a very short amount of time.
- Shout-Out: Sonnets to Orpheus is chock-full of allusions to the Greek myth.
- Take That, Critics!: He says in Letters to a Young Poet:Read as little as possible of literary criticism - such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.