Death – Rainer Maria Rilke

Still on the theme of death I have found this poem by Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926, called “Death”. He was the only child of  a German speaking family in Prague. His father was a retired  officer in the Austrian army and his mother was said to be socially ambitious.

His formal education started at age eleven at a military boarding academy and in less than a year after being transferred to secondary military school in 1891 he was discharged due to health problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.

When he returned home he found his parents had divorced. He then took private lessons towards passing entrance exams for Prague’s Charles-Ferdinand University. In 1894 his first book of verse was published.

In 1897 he went to Russia which proved a milestone in his life and was the beginning of his early serious work. There he met Tolstoy and Leonid Pasternak. In Workswede Germany where he worked for a time, he met his future wife Clara Westhoff who had been a pupil of Rodin. In 1902 he became the friend and for a time secretary to Rodin, and it was during his twelve-year Paris residence that Rilke enjoyed his greatest poetic activity.

He continued to travel throughout his lifetime and when World War 1 broke out he had to  leave France and went to live in Munich. In 1919 he went to Switzerland  where he spent the last years of his life, when in 1926 he died of leukemia.

You can read more about his life here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/rainer-maria-rilke 

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Death – Rainer Maria Rilke

Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.

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