Rilke fut sans doute le poète allemand le plus important de la première moitié
du XXème siècle. Son oeuvre,introvertie, est une longue
méditation sur les événement essentiels de l'existence humaine, et en
particulier,la mort, qui lui semblait le point culminant
auquel toute vie doit préparer. «Donne à chacun sa propre mort/La mort
née de sa propre vie, où il connut l'amour et la misère...»« car nous ne
sommes que l'écorce,que la feuille,le fruit qui est au centre de tout,
c'est la grande mort,que chacun porte en soi» écrit-il dans
Le Livre de la Pauvreté
et La mort.
Assez tôt considéré comme un maître par les autres poètes,
il n'en demeura pas moins pendant très longtemps peu lu, et doit,
en particulier en France, sa notoriété à un recueil de lettres
Les lettres à un jeune poète ,publié après sa mort par Franz Xaver Kappus,
avec qui il avait correspondu. Rilke y ouvre son coeur à quelqu'un
qu'il ne connaissait pratiquement pas, avec une confiance et une
justesse de ton, qui ne peuvent pas laisser indifférent.
Il y parle encore de la mort, mais aussi de l'amour, de la solitude, et de la création,
avec une profondeur qui fait encore de cet ouvrage, publié chez de nombreux éditeurs
(Les Belles Lettres, Grasset,Le Seuil,Gallimard) une source où toute
une jeunesse en quête d'une spiritualité sans dogme vient s'abreuver.
Parmi les traducteurs les plus délicats de son oeuvre,
citons Maurice Betz,qui fut son ami,et Adamov qui traduisit
Le Livre de la Pauvreté et de la Mort à une époque (1939) où, le
monde sombrant dans le chaos, cette tâche prenait à ses yeux une dimension
Il nourrit des amitiés vivantes
avec quelques-uns des créateurs les plus novateurs de son époque,
en particulier,Auguste Rodin, dont il fut le secrétaire,
et dont il admirait la force de travail et la volonté, et Marina Tsvetaeva,
dont il décela le génie avant tout le monde et avec qui il entretint quelques
mois une correspondance d'une altitude et d'une liberté à la mesure de
ces deux grands esprits contemporains.
Afin de parachever sa biographie de poète et de lui assurer une traversée
des siècles sans encombre, il mourut (lui qui avait écrit un recueil en
Français sur les jardins, Verger) du fait des suites d'une mauvaise piqûre
de rose qui dégénéra en leucémie, et au seuil de la mort, refusa les soins
thérapeutiques qui auraient pu lui éviter la souffrance, de peur de voir lui
échapper «sa propre mort.».(Piers Tenniel)
Original name RENÉ MARIA RILKE, Austro-German poet who became internationally
famous with such works as Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus.
Born in Prague, Bohemia, in December 1875, a seven-month child,
son of Josef Rilke and Sophie (Phia) Entz. He was baptized Rene Karl Wilhelm
Johann Josef Maria Rilke. He changed his name from Rene to Rainer in 1897,
because he felt Rene sounded too precious.
His father had been a soldier, who had become head of personnel on the
North Bohemia Railway. His parents were an ill-assorted couple, «
My parents' marriage was already in decline when I was born,» he later wrote.
His mother was a devout Catholic with social aspirations.
«For my mother I was a plaything, I think, like a doll»,Rilke
said. She treated him like the daughter she had lost before he was born.
His father was stiff and conventional and he felt that there was little love
in his childhood.
In 1882, he was sent to the School of the Piaristen Order for German Speakers.
He was rather lonely and,as he was escorted to and from school,
unable to make many friends.
On the break-up of his parents' marriage in 1884, he was sent to boarding
school and then on to the military school at Polten in Austria, as his father
hoped that he would follow in his military footsteps.
Rilke was a quiet, serious boy, not much good at the physical aspects
of his military training and was already writing poetry.
In 1891, his father removed him from the school because of ill health.
This might have been psychosomatic,as Rilke was desperate to leave.
He went on to Linz Academy.
He was beginning to get poetry published. As he lodged with a
sociable family, a social life opened up to him, balls,
theatre visits, shooting parties. He ran off with a children's' nurse,
Olga Blumauer,to Vienna and was only brought back after several days.
Rilke referred to this as «a stupid flirtation.»
He had certainly had the business sense to visit the editor Eduard Kastner
whilst in Vienna.
His father wanted him to read law, but in 1895 he enrolled at Carl-Ferdinand
University in Prague to read history of art,literature and philosophy.
Although he became involved in café society, he felt that he needed to be
at the centre of the German cultural world and so he travelled to Munich.
In 1897,he had an affair with Louise Andreas (born:von Salome),
who was to remain a friend and influence on him throughout his life.
In 1901,he married the sculptor Clara Westhoff and later that year their
daughter Ruth was born. It was a rash venture as he had no money.
He took work as a critic for a while.
Poems from the Book of Hours(1905), was written after two journeys
to Russia in 1899/1900 where he had met Trotsky. Now he went to Paris
to meet Rodin. His August Rodin was published in 1903.
He travelled a great deal and saw little of his daughter.
Money problems were never far away and Rilke, Clara and Ruth lived
mostly on grants from their families. In 1911,
he decided to divorce Clara, but had second thoughts and never went through with it.
Journal of My Other Self (1910) was a key text in existentialism which prefigured
Sartre's La Nausee.
In 1916, much to his dismay, he was called up for military service.
After «three weeks of torture», however, he was posted
to the War Archive, work which was more congenial to him.
In 1923, his two major works Sonnets to Orpheus and
were published. These contributed to his reputation as one of
the most important figures in modern European literature.
He died in December 1926 at Valmont of leukaemia.