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Austrian poet gets own festival

An exhibition commemorates the years Rilke spent in the Valais Keystone

The town of Sierre is holding its first festival in honour of the Austrian writer and long-time resident, Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke, who was born in Prague in 1875, is considered one of the greatest German-language lyric poets of modern times.

This content was published on August 18, 2000 - 10:59

Until Sunday, 200 events are being held to commemorate the author, who settled in the village of Muzot, near Sierre in canton Valais, in 1921. It was there, in the castle in which he lived, that he wrote some of his most famous works, including "Sonnets to Orpheus".

The three-day festival will see Sierre's Rue du Bourg transformed into a stage for concerts, dance performances and other events.

There will also be conferences, guided walks and public readings, notably of another famous work, the "Duino Elegies".

As a poet, Rilke made his debut at the age of 19 with "Leben und Lieder". Soon after, he travelled to Russia, where he met Leo Tolstoy, and spent time in Italy, Sweden and Denmark.

His marriage to the young sculptress, Klara Westoff, in 1901 lasted only a year, after which he joined an artists' colony at Worpswede in Germany in 1903.

A Rilke scholar who will be in Sierre for the festival, Jehan Despert, describes the poet as a "perpetual vagabond". Indeed, his time in Germany was short-lived. He moved to Paris to write a book about Auguste Rodin, and travelled extensively in France, Spain, north Africa and Germany, occupying 150 different homes between 1907 and 1914.

In 1907-08, he published "Neue Gedichte", which reflected his new style of lyrical poetry. Those poems were succeeded by a prose work in 1910, "Die Aufzeichnung des Malte Laurids Brigge".

After that Rilke's creative output dried up, and it was only 12 years later, after he had settled in Switzerland, that he began to publish new works again.

Rilke, who suffered from leukemia, died near Sierre in December 1926, after contracting an infection when he pricked himself on a rose thorn.

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