Rilke’s travels

Raron, Museum auf der Burg, Salle Rilke
from 1st June 2024
from 10 am to 5 pm

In 2024, the Rilke Foundation presents a temporary exhibition at the Museum auf der Burg, Raron, dedicated to Rilke’s travels – his expeditions in Europe and North Africa, his discovery of the Rhone Valley, his poetic explorations and his final journey to his resting place in Raron.

I. Overcoming Borders

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) lived as a traveller. He left his home town of Prague at an early age. He travelled across Europe, finding his way between landscapes and languages, reading and translating. Travelling promised him encounters without constraint, experiences without confinement, deepened friendships – such as with the poet Paul Valéry (1871-1945), whom he met on the French side of Lake Geneva and whose works he translated.

II. Paperless Poetry

The cross-border approach to life has its price. Rilke lost his home and property several times: after the outbreak of the First World War, he was unable to return to Paris. After the end of the war, he travelled from Munich to Switzerland. Again and again he had apply for passports, sometimes even asking friends and patrons for suitable writing paper.

III. North Africa

Rilke’s journey to North Africa are comparatively little known: to Algiers, Tunis and the Egyptian archaeological sites. He asks: Is travelling – searching? Poetry precedes the journey. Rilke asserts that works of art are “future things”, things whose time has not yet come. He writes his first poems about Egypt in Rome in 1904, long before arriving in Cairo in early January 1911. This is echoed again in 1922 in the “Duino Elegies”, which he completed in the Rhône valley.

IV. North Africa

In 1920, Rilke travelled to Valais for the first time: a great discovery. A year later, a photograph drew his attention to a medieval tower: Muzot above Sierre. During the decisive five years of his life he spent there he wrote his main works: the “Duino Elegies” and the “Sonnets to Orpheus”.

V. Imaginary Travels

America had never appealed to him. But he imagined the discoveries one could make there. Sometimes the imagination also helped him to cancel trips. When the writer Elisabeth von Schmidt-Pauli wanted to arrange a house and garden for him in Wölfelsgrund in Lower Silesia, Rilke had the details described in detail. He then stated that he would rather find nothing than yield to something ‘approximate’. Better to keep travelling in your thoughts!

IV. The Final Journey

“Le dernier voyage” is the title of a chapter in the book of memoirs published by Isabelle Rimbaud, the French poet’s sister. Rilke owned the third edition of this book. In his will, which he conceived in October 1925, Rilke expressed the wish to be laid to rest in the high churchyard next to the old church in Raron: “Its enclosure is one of the first places from which I have received the wind and the light of this landscape.”

Rainer Maria Rilke (left) et Paul Valéry (right), 1926, SLA Bern.