Green Fingers

Rilke’s love of roses was commented on in a letter in the Financial Times last week (3rd September), linked to an article by Robin Lane Fox.

Rilke was able to realise his wish for a rose garden whilst at Muzot in the Valais, more about his time there is featured in the book, RILKE: A Bio Novel. (See here for stockists)

News Rilke

International Coverage

I am pleased to say that the book has been attracting attention around the world. As well as the testimonial from an enthusiast in San Francisco, USA and a letter selected for publication in the FT in London, the Walliser Bote asked for an interview which they published on 29th July. Click here or on the image to read the full text in English.

“Just now I finished your novel. Congratulations on your achievement!  Your devotion and research shine through. A majestic volume on my Rilke shelves.”

Bruce Mueller, San Francisco

I’m also pleased to say that the antidote to the indolence referred to in the letter is working on the related book mentioned in the article, Road Trip with Rilke.


Rilke in Kansas 2021

I recently came across George Schoolfield’s lecture in 1966 titled Rilke’s Last Year. It was a revelation as I discovered that Kansas University had a collection of 1,600 items that had been given by Dr Henry Sagan.

“He was one of the most devoted and best informed of Rilke’s collectors,” said Schoolfield who gave a masterful and amusing account of the items ranging from 1927 to 1946 including the two former lovers, Loulou Albert-Lasard and Magda von Hattingberg, woke up suddenly in the middle of the night the moment Rilke died! Yet his greatest supporter Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis did not experience such a dramatic awakening – she received a telegram four days after his death after returning from a walk.

“Among them is a collection of the essays, addresses, and poetry which were written and published in response to Rilke’s death. Some
material of this sort, by more or less famous hands, has long been familiar to Rilke scholars.” Names like Robert Musil, Edmond Jaloux, Stefan Zweig and Robert Faesi (he paid homage twice – to students at Zurich University and then at the Landestheater in Stuttgart.) are mentioned in the obituary eulogies.

“And there is the noble tribute of Paul Valery, which, because it
contains personal recollections, is so much more moving than certain of the German threnodies with their splendid abstractions—” But what is not mentioned is the special relationship between Rilke, Boris Pasternak (the same who wrote Dr Zhivago) and Marina Tsvetayeva who wrote the New Year Letter in 1927 to come to terms with his death.

For the rest, Schoolfield provides a fascinating summary of Rilke’s last year, 1926. He delves into the legend that he was poisoned by the thorns of a rose, his dehumanisation, fatal illness and sexual encounters of which Princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis once said that Don Juan was an orphan boy compared to Rilke. Schoolfield’s last word is to recommend future biographers to discover and to value the human Rilke through consulting the Kansas University’s archive.


Lady Gaga’s Tattoo

Lady Gaga has a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke tattooed on her left arm. The lines are from Letters to a Poet which was written to Franz Xaver Kappus on February 17, 1903. “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?”

See her interview on youtube

Lady Gaga aka the Queen of Pop was a musical wunderkind who could play the piano at the age of four. Today, she is an American songwriter, actress and singer who sang the national anthem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021.


Balthus the artist

To some the appearance of the Polish-French artist Balthus Klossowski in the Rilke book might come as a surprise. The same applies to his older brother Pierre the super intellectual. But Balthus in fact plays an important part in the book because his mother was Rilke’s mistress and muse and he was befriended by Rilke who was also responsible for his education.

There was also another aspect to the young Balthus because he had a talent for detective work. In the period that he lived in Berlin, he worked with police to bring a criminal gang to justice. Later in Geneva, he solved another case of a murdered American tourist. With regard to art he benefited from visits to the Berlin police headquarters at Alexanderplatz. (Read more on page 59.)


Rilkes Welt:Festschrift for August Stahl on his 75th birthday

When my book was a work-in-progress, I was privileged to be invited to give talks to the members of the Rilke Gesellschaft. As my knowledge of German was rudimentary, a bilingual friend translated the English sentences which I read from the manuscript into German.

One of the memorable events was a conference at the Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll in 2008 on Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Valery. I was involved in a workshop on Rilke, Valery and his mistress Catherine Pozzi.

I had contrasted the two couples as the antithesis of each other. Rilke and Elisabeth Klossowska as the great passion like Abelard and Heloise while Valery and Pozzi opted for a more modern interpretation. They looked upon their relationship as a fusion of two light atoms to create a heavier third, energy-rich.

The highlight during this period was to be asked to contribute to Rilkes Welt: Festschrift For August Stahl on his 75th birthday, the renowned Rilke scholar.

Rilkes Welt (Peter Lang 2009) encompasses Rilke’s concept of ‘world’, his inclusion of ‘world’, the literary design and its reception are the focus of this volume of essays. In around 50 contributions by international literary scholars and Rilke researchers, it presents the many facets in the life and work of the European poet from Prague and thus not only gives an impression of Rilke’s work, but also of its importance for literary and cultural history.

The occasion of the publication was the birthday of August Stahl, his literary work and personal commitment to the development, dissemination and understanding of Rilke – far beyond his work as the then President of the International Rilke Society – of Rilke researchers, Rilke readers and Rilke lovers is recognized.

For this reason, a list of the writings related to Rilke by August Stahl concludes the anthology, which aims to open up many dimensions of Rilke’s ‘world’.


Victoria Station

My dance with Rilke began on Victoria station when I commuted from London to West Sussex. I usually arrived with 10 minutes to spare to catch the hourly train and I would check the books at the W.H.Smith shop on the platform. It was there that I found Stephen Mitchell’s Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. I was entranced. It took me a decade to complete my book on the poet. 

In the journey of discovery, I came to see a different side of his character. No longer the guru who imparted wisdom, but the real person shone through. A flesh and blood lover who adored woman. An obdurate man of moods and above all, one who cared deeply for others whether it be a waif on the streets or a hungry dog with imploring eyes.

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Publication Date

The publication date for Rilke Bio Novel has been set for 18th March 2021