Rainer Maria Rilke was born in Prague in 1875. He had an unhappy childhood, forced to attend a military academy by his parents who wanted him to become an officer. An uncle recognized Rilke's intellectual gifts and helped him leave the academy and attend a preparatory school. He arrived at Charles University in Prague in 1895 already an author--he had published a book of poetry, Leben und Lieder, the year before. During his first year at the university, Rilke published his second collection, Larenopfer; a third collection, Traumgekrönt, soon followed in 1896. In 1897, Rilke began a lifetime of travel. He first went to Russia where he met Tolstoy and Leonid Pasternak. For a period of time he was the friend and secretary of famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. During a lengthy stay in Paris, he was at his most prolific. Although he traveled to Italy, Spain, and Egypt, Paris always remained the creative center of his life; it was there that he honed his unique style of lyrical poetry. Due to the outbreak of World War I, Rilke spent the last years of lis life in Switzerland. He died of leukemia in 1926. Although his work was recognized during his lifetime, only after Rilke's death was his reputation solidified as a master poet.
I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.
I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.