Rainer Maria Rilke

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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 twentieth-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. He produced poems that reflected his era while remaining true to what he saw as the loftier ideals that the modern times had rejected. In addition to poetry, he published short stories, plays, and an experimental novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He died of leukemia in 1926.