Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 - 1926

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Born: 4 December 1875, Prague, Bohemia, Austria
Died: 29 December 1926, Montreux, Switzerland

Born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, his father was career soldier who washed out and ended up working for the railroad, his mother was mourning the death of her daughter. To compensate, his mother forced him to wear girls' clothing for the first five years and, two years later his father compensated for his lost career by sending him to the first of two military academies, which didn't sit well with the boy who already had demonstrated his artistic and creative talents. Illness allowed him to escape the military school and he was tutored for university entrance. He spent two years at Prague and Munich studying literature, art, history, and philosophy. In 1897 he fell in love with Lou Andreas-Salomé, a married woman; the relationship lasted about three years but their friendship continued for the rest of Rilke's life. She convinced him to change his name from René to the more-masculine Rainer, took him on two trips to Russia (one with her husband) where he met Leo Tolstoy and Boris Pasternak. In 1900 he joined the artists' colony at Worpswede and married the sculptress Clara Westhoff the following year. They had a daughter but Rilke left for Paris a year later, again the relationship continued on some level for the rest of his life. At Paris he spent several years writing and working with artists, notably Auguste Rodin and Paul Cezanne. He was living near Trieste but traveling in Germany when World War I broke out and he learned that his property in France had been confiscated. He was drafted by the Germans and with the help of friends stayed out of combat and worked in the War Records Office. After the war he moved to Switzerland, largely to escape the chaos of post-war Germany, the result was a burst of creative work which slowed only when health problems began to interfere in 1923. It was only immediately before his death that his leukemia was diagnosed.

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