The artist Rainer Maria Rilke was born on December 4, 1875 in Prague as the son of the military officer Josef Rilke (1838-1906). His mother Sophie (1851-1931) was the daughter of a merchant and imperial councilor. She felt that she had married under her station in society and left her husband in 1885 to move closer to the imperial court in Vienna.
Rilke spent his first four school years in a catholic monastic school in Prague. As it was financially impossible for him to attend secondary school, he went to the St. Pölten military school from 1886 to 1891 following his father's request and subsequently attended a higher military school "Militär-Oberrealschul" in Moravian-Weisskirchen.
Rilke successfully accomplished his theoretical education, but being rather sensitive, he avoided physical strains and the tough manners customary among his fellow students, and dropped out of the military academy in 1890.
In late 1891 his parents decided that he should attend trade school in Linz. At that time, Rainer Maria Rilke published his first poems and dedicated more time to his literary work.
Auto-didactically, Rilke studied intensively for his university entrance qualifications, and went on to study history of art and literature in Prague, Munich and Berlin.
In 1897 Rilke met the 36-year-old Lou Andreas-Salomé, who was already successful in the literary field and had for example published the first biography of Friedrich Nietzsche.
From 1899 to 1900 the Salomés traveled to Russia with Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke was deeply impressed by the country and the much acclaimed 'Russian spirit' of the people in particular. In Moscow and St. Petersburg he visited museums, met various painters and the writer Leo Tolstoi. After his return he processed his impressions and experiences in new poems.
In 1900 Rilke moved to the painters' colony Worpswede and married the sculptor Clara Westhoff, only to leave her again two years later. In 1905 Rainer Maria Rilke worked for several months as the private secretary to Auguste Rodin in Paris, but their cooperation ended in conflict.
Rilke traveled to northern Africa, Egypt and Spain. In 1911/12 he lived in the Duchess Marie von Thurn und Taxis's castle Duino on the Adriatic coast. Later, after World War I had broken out, Rilke was drafted to the Austrian "Landsturm" (home guard) for a short term, from which he was soon dismissed for health reasons.
After the war he lived in Switzerland, from 1921 Rilke spent some time in Muzot castle in the canton of Wallis, where he had been invited by his patron Werner Reinhart. Not having written any important literary pieces immediately following the war, Rilke returned to writing in Wallis.
Rainer Maria Rilke died of leukemia in the sanatorium Val-Mont near Montreux on December 29, 1926.