National Poetry Month: Rainer Maria Rilke

In honor of National Poetry Month, I thought it fitting to spread the love for my favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.  One of the most celebrated poets in the German language, Rainer Maria Rilke is known for his beautiful imagery, his terrifying angels, and the soft, musical tone of his words.
More recently, he was blasted for being a Fallen Idol, defended by me here, but for National Poetry Month, I want to focus on his words alone. Rilke’s work moved me so much when I was first studying German that I ended up immersing myself in it and writing my doctoral dissertation about his poetry. His books lined my shelves and his picture hung on my wall while I scribbled in my notebook.


Instead of rambling about how his work moves me personally (which I could do at length), I thought I’d offer up some zinger lines from his poems that grabbed me when I first read them and still grab me now. Without further ado:
From Frühlung (“Spring”), one of Rilke’s early poems:
Die Sonne schreibt sich hoffnungsvoll                                        
ins junge Gras mit großen Lettern.

Full of hope, the sun corresponds
in the young grass with huge type.
From Der Schutzengel (“The Guardian Angel”), one of the poems in The Book of Images:
Du bist der Vogel, dessen Flügel kamen,                                    
wenn ich erwachte un der Nacht und rief.

You are the bird, whose wings came,
when I awoke in the night and called.
From Liebes-Lied (“Love Song”), one of the poems in the New Poems series:
Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, dass                                          
sie nicht an deine rührt?

How should I keep my soul from
touching yours?
From the first elegy of the Duineser Elegien (“Duino Elegies”):
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel

Who, if I screamed, would hear me
from the orders of angels?
From the eighteenth sonnet of the Sonette an Orpheus (“Sonnets to Orpheus”)
Tänzerin: o du Verlegung                                                                
alles Vergehens in Gang: wie brachtest du’s dar.

Dancer: o you postponement
of everything in decay in motion: how you offer it up.
It was so hard to pick only five amazing Rilke lines! I’d love to hear if these words move you as well. Feel free to add your favorites!

In Defense of Rainer Maria Rilke

Many of you know I’m a fan of poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I fell in love with his words the first time I read them (“The Swan” was my first), and I ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on his poetry. One of my manuscripts for teens is a historical fantasy that includes Rilke as one of the side characters, so needless to say, I’m unabashedly pro-Rilke.


Imagine my shock a few weeks ago when there was quite a hubbub over a New York Times article entitled “Fallen Idols,” which included Rilke as the poster boy for bad behavior, calling him “a selfish, sycophantic, womanizing rat.”
Not so fast.
This same New York Times article cites Ralph Freedman’s 1996 biography of the poet as evidence that Rilke was pretty much an asshat. Yet a smart review of Freedman’s biography published in The Atlantic the year the book came out outlined a thorough rebuttal of some of Freedman’s assumptions, including:
This is all ludicrously unfair. It’s certainly unfair to say that Rilke didn’t give the women he loved and who loved him the “choice to remove themselves for the sake of their art.” He was in no position to give or deny freedom to his independent-minded wife, let alone to any woman of whom he was merely a lover. Only their passion, or admiration, or use for Rilke bound these women to the famous poet. 
To get the full picture, I’d recommend reading this entire review, which breaks down point for point why Rilke was not the asshat painted by Freedman.
However, to be fair, as a female writer of fiction myself, I often imagine what it would be like to share an evening with Rilke. Whose role would I play, the much-older benefactress, Marie von Thurn und Taxis, who “was wise enough both to nurture Rilke’s gift and to keep her distance from her complicated protégé”? His wife, Clara, who “enthusiastically seconded Rilke’s definition of two artists wedded as each, in Rilke’s cautiously ambiguous phrase, ‘the guardian of the other’s solitude'” Or the “brilliant and beautiful Lou Andreas-Salomé,” the lover shared his passion and broke his heart?
If this were indeed fiction, a night in each of those bodies would be pretty cool. But in reality, I know I’d have been one of a myriad tongue-tied and starry-eyed fangirls, letting the great poet monopolize the conversation with his brilliance. Because in the end, what remains of Rilke is his body of work, not his deeds. Therefore, like Lee Siegel, that reviewer for The Atlantic, I’ll leave the last words to Rilke:

But you I want now, you, whom I knew

like a flower, whose name I didn’t know,

to remember just one time and to show you,

beautiful companion of the unconquerable cry.

What’s Up Wednesday? Week 2!

So psyched to see everyone else who jumped in on Ready. Set. WRITE! last week. I’m loving the motivation to stay on track. Here’s where I’m at this week.
What I’m Writing:
I’m happy with my own progress for the week, but I definitely won’t be posting about huge word counts or chapters revised anytime this summer. I’m still preparing for a huge rewrite, which includes setting up my project in Scrivener, importing outline notes and brainstorming on those, and lots of Thinking. I did some of each of that this week, but I can already see how much more it’s going to take. Right now I’m just scratching the surface, but that’s totally fine with me.
In the meantime, some tangible progress:
What I’m Reading:
Since I’ve been spending more time Thinking than writing, I’ve also had more time for reading this week. I also got lucky with three fantastic reads in my TBR pile:
ONE by Leigh Ann Kopans. I breezed through this in one day–such a fun read! My twitter summary was “zippy, geeky, and romantic!”
THESE BROKEN STARS by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. This took me a little bit to get into, but I ended up loving it.
THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone. This is a spy thriller for adults (gasp!), but it was sososo good. Excellent plotting and so many twists it had my head spinning.
Then I finally cracked BELLE EPOQUE by Elizabeth Ross open this morning and I already don’t want to put it down. Love it!
What Inspires Me:
Since the inspiration for my novel was Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry, I’ve been turning to it this week. I couldn’t help going back to his Sonnets to Orpheus, and this stanza, which provided the initial spark for me:
And almost a girl it was, who went forth
from this single joy from song and lyre
and glowed clear through spring’s fog
and made herself a bed in my ear.
Reading his work again reminds me of how beautifully he strings words together, and how much I love this series of poems. Can’t you just see the girl?

Writing Retreat of Dreams!

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.
This Week’s Topic:
Describe your dream writing retreat. Where would you go? Who and what would you bring?
This topic is something I think about a LOT. Like many others, I squeeze writing into my daily life, and the idea of a writing retreat conjures up all kinds of images of productivity. Who wouldn’t want a a honeymoon with a WIP instead of a quickie?
Thus a dream retreat for me would really be anywhere that provided stretches of alone-time, plenty of tasty food and caffeinated beverages, and the opportunity for literary discussion, all in an inspiring setting.
The place that best fits the bill for me? Ronda, Spain:

Specifically, I’d choose the HOTEL REINA VICTORIA (, a place that offered the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke the peace and inspiration he needed to write.

I’d bring my laptop of course, a stack of books, and a notebook and pencil for scribbling in the garden. I’d love to have a group of writerly friends along too, for those literary discussions after productive writing sessions. Anyone with me?