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Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer (René) Maria Rilke was born December 4, 1875, to the railway official Josef Rilke and his wife Phia Rilke, née Entz, in Prag. Until he is five years old, Rilke's mother forces him to wear girl's clothes and calls him Sophia -- compensating for the earlier loss of a baby girl. Although Rilke blames his mother for an unhappy childhood, she also encourages him to read and write poetry.

When he is nine, Rilke's parents separate and the following year his father sends him to a Military Academy at St. Pölten and Mahrisch-Weisskirchen, which he attends until 1891.

In 1894, Rilke publishes Leben und Lieder, which was written in the conventional style of Heinrich Heine.

Rilke completes his Abitur in Prag in 1895 and begins studying history of art and literature in Prag.

In 1896, Rilke moves to Munich to begin studying philosophy at the University of Munich, where he also meets the writer Louise ("Lou") Andreas-Salomé.

In 1897, Rilke follows Salomé to Berlin and officially changes his first name from René to Rainer.

In 1899, Rilke registers at the Berlin University to study art history. That year and the following year he travels with Andreas-Salomé to Russia, where he also visits with Leo Tolstoy. In 1900, he separates from Andreas-Salomé and marries the sculptor Clara Westhoff, a student of Auguste Rodin.

Sculpture by Rodin

In 1901 Rilke and wife move to Westerwede/ Worpswede. Ruth, their only child, is born here. Although there is no formal divorce, the marriage ends after a year.

Poverty forces Rilke to sell all of his possessions in 1902; he moves to Paris, where he meets the sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Rilke's acquaintance with Rodin changes his outlook on poetry; he pursues something he calls "sachliches Sagen" (object recounting) or "Dinggedichte" (thing poems) — the idea is basically to create a thing or object for the reader through verbal imagery. He attempts to create poems that have the same artistic effect on the reader that Rodin's sculptures have on the viewer.