Selected Poems RILKE (Excerpt)

10 Dec


Ranier Maria Rilke, the only surviving child of German-speaking and German-descended parents, was born in Prague on 4 Decmber1875.  His father had been intended, like his two elder brothers, for the career of an officer in the Austrian army, but after serving with distinction in the campaign against Italy in 1859, had been compelled to ask for a long leave of absence on grounds of ill-health, after which his prospects of promotion seemed so remote that he had resigned.  he then became a railway official, but although he achieved some success in this career, he remained until the end of his days a disappointed man, rather contemptuous of the bourgeois life he was forced to lead, and for many years found his one consolation in the hope that his son René ( as he was originally called) would be able to obtain the commission he himself had been compelled to forgo.  While Rilke’s father appears to have been completely commonplace, his mother, though silly, snobbish, and full of a rather sentimental and superficial piety, had imagination of a kind and seems to have been something of a personality.  Indeed, her son, to whom she bore a distinct facial resemblance, came in later years to regard her as a kind of caricature of himself.  His birth had been preceded by that of a daughter, who had died in infancy, and his mother apparently tried to console herself for this loss by pretending, so long as she possibly could, that René was a girl.  Until he was five years old he wore dresses and long curls and played with dolls, and even when these things had to go his only meetings with boys of his own age were on his birthdays.

When he was nine years old his parents separated, his father remained in Prague while his mother went to live in Vienna; and partly, perhaps, because of this, partly because they could not afford to send him to a gymnasium ( or, as the French call it, a lycée), and partly because of the father’s ambition that his son should become an officer, the precocious and so unwisely brought-up René was sent for five years (September 1886 to June 1891) to the Lower and Higher Military Schools of St Pölten and Mährisch-Weissskirchen where all expenses were paid by the State.  At these schools Rilke learnt little, made no friends, and suffered agonies of which he often spoke in later life.  he was finally removed on the ground of continuous ill-health, and after a year at the Commercial Academy in Linz, lived with his father in Prague and prepared himself,with the help of private tuition, for matriculation at the University An uncle, a prosperous barrister, had proposed that he should succeed him in his practice and had offered to pay all the expenses of his education, but, although Rilke enrolled at the University as a student of law, he had already resolved to be a writer or nothing.

Selected Poems RILKE; Translated with an Introduction by J. B. Leishman (Penguin Books Ltd. Harmonsworth, Middlesex, England Copyright 1964 Reprinted 1967) pp. 9-10


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