Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, understood the power of words. At a lover’s urging, he changed his name to Rainer, which he thought sounded more masculine. He is probably the best-known 20th-century German-language poet, best known for his Duino Elegies, his Sonnets to Orpheus, and his New Poems. In the Duino Elegies—his most important work—and his other poems, Rilke combined knowledge of classical literature with a mystical sense of existence and religion.
Maria Picone is a student at Goddard College’s low-residency MFA program and has degrees in philosophy from Rice and Princeton. She taught herself French after she attended a Descartes seminar as an undergraduate, in which she was the only one who couldn’t read French. Since then she has read not only philosophy but a wide range of literature in the original. She also has a personal affinity for French because she grew up hearing her grandmother often sing or curse in the language.