Walliser Bote

Walliser Bote 29 Juli 2021 : “Ich Habe Rilke erweckt”

Farrol Kahn hat in Eischoll einen Biografischen Roman über den wohl wichtigsten Dichter für das Wallis geschrieben. Eine Arbeit, de zehn Jahre dauerte.

Translation of article below.

Interview:Sarah-Maria Heldner – I made Rilke alive”

Farrol Kahn has written a bio novel about the probably most important poet for the Valais. A task that took 10 years to complete. The author of the book “Rilke” about the passion for the poet, his work and Switzerland.

Why did you write a book about Rilke’s life?

I wanted to write a book, a novel about a poet. I first thought of Yeats, the Irish poet, but there has already been a lot written about him. Another option was a Latvian poet called Rainis but it was difficult to find poems because they were mostly in Russian. I initially wanted to do something about this poet because my father was from that country.

And then, by chance, I picked up a book of Rilke’s poetry by Mitchell, when I was commuting from London to Sussex. I was fascinated by the poems. I’ve read snippets of his Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus when I was on the train and later I began reading about his life. There were a lot of books in English about him but they were mainly academic works about his poetry. No one has written about the man who had a life, who had many loves and who struggled to find himself. I wanted to show him as a human being, not just a guru or a philosopher. All his works can be traced to a basis.

What is that basis?

The basis of his work was that in 1900 he married and then had a child. After one year he turned to his wife and said that he was a bad husband, a bad father but wanted to be a good poet. He left his family and travelled a lot: Egypt, Spain, Berlin, France and many more. He never put down roots, he was always hovering above a city or a country.

What fascinated you about his life?

He was one of these mysterious poets who wrote a lot of letters: 17,000. Another interesting aspect is the contrast between him and his friend Paul Valéry. The french poet wrote according to a system whereas Rilke was very emotional. In order to write, Rilke always tried to find a “winter nest”, a place where he was on his own. Only a housekeeper would be in

the same house and put the food in front of Rilke’s room. He just wanted to write poetry on his own over the three months of winter.

How did you get all the information for the book?

I’ve read a lot of his letters, took notes and did research in libraries like Oxford and Geneva. Those libraries have his genuine letters, the letter he wrote to his mistress and muse Baladine Klossowska. Their story is very fascinating.

What is their story?

The creative years of Rilke in Switzerland were from 1920 to 1926. The first thing he had to do was to find a “winter nest”. He first tried to find something in Zurich like the Schloss Berg am Irchel but it did not work out. When he met Baladine in Geneva they went on a trip to the Valais and when they were by the church above Raron, they looked at the wonderful landscape. That awakened his inspiration for writing poetry.

Rilke had a great love affair with her but then got leukemia. He did not want to see Baladine while his body was full of black spots, which was very hard for him. This grand passion that can be seen in the incredible love letters is so inspiring.

During your research, have you found something surprising?

Yes, I did. I wondered why a lot of the books on him were academic and none showed who he was. The reason behind that is, that his letters have been censored by his wife. Anything that had something to do with his emotions, his body or his love affairs was affected. That’s why many people didn’t really know much about him.

How did you deal with the censored parts?

His confessions took 50 years to be published. It was hard work, I had to go to the libraries, to sit down and make notes. I had a translator that translated the German or French texts into English.

How much fiction is in your bio novel of Rilke?

The only sort of fiction is where I animate him. Many things I know from the love letter he wrote to Baladine Klossowska. These elements I used in conversation. I really made Rilke alive which is much appreciated.

Had you already had connections to Switzerland before you started writing your novel about Rilke?

Not a strong connection. I have seen pictures of the landscape and one falls in love with it.

You’ve written the book in Eischoll. How did you get Eischoll as a destination to write your book?

My German Rilke friends had apartments in Eischoll and invited me to stay there while writing the book. They said that the view was wonderful and that I could see the church in Raron where Rilke is buried. That was true. I could always look down and get inspiration.

Was Rilke inspiration enough during  the whole process or did you have writing blocks?

Rilke opened a whole new world, an inner world which he was part of.  Wherever I go there is a reminder of Rilke in some shape or form. For Example, when I went to Paris I would go to the Luxembourg Gardens where he had had many walks.

You are currently writing your new book “Road Trip with Rilke”. Do you proceed in the same way as for the previous book?

No. I would look at my book, the biographical novel and find areas that are important in the road trip. For example Schloss Berg am Irchel. It still exists today, even though it is a horse breeding centre. Or the Victoria Hotel where he is in the register. All those places will be in the road trip. Readers can go around Switzerland and stay in five star hotels, where a little table of memories will remind of Rilke. In the book you will find the letters that he has written at those places.

So it is a mix of a travel guide and memories of Rilke?

Exactly. You have the opportunity of entering his personal world by discovering new places and reading his letters.

Green Fingers

Rilke’s love of roses was commented on in a letter in the Financial Times last week (3rd September), linked to an article by Robin Lane Fox.

Rilke was able to realise his wish for a rose garden whilst at Muzot in the Valais, more about his time there is featured in the bookRILKE: A Bio Novel. (See here for stockists)

International Coverage

I’ve had a testimonial from an enthusiast in San Francisco, USA and a letter selected for publication in the FT in London, the Walliser Bote asked for an interview which they published on 29th July. Click here or on the image to read the full text in English.

“Just now I finished your novel. Congratulations on your achievement!  Your devotion and research shine through. A majestic volume on my Rilke shelves.”

Bruce Mueller, San Francisco

I’m also pleased to say that the antidote to the indolence referred to in the letter is working on the related book mentioned in the article, Road Trip with Rilke.

Anzeiger von Saanen

The German article is below (zoom in to read) with English translation below. 

Article from Anzeiger von Saanen 11th December 2021

Why did you write a book about Rilke?

What attracted me to Rilke was that he was the epitome of a poet. The English poet, Stephen Spender once said that if he cuts himself while shaving he will bleed poetry. At the beginning of his marriage, after the birth of his daughter Ruth, Rilke turned to his wife Clara and said: “I have come to a crossroads in my life. I am neither a good husband nor a good father, but I want to be a good poet. Ciao! ” What kept him going until he completed his two masterpieces, the “Duineser Elegies” and the “Sonnets for Orpheus”, was his mantra: “Always be a beginner! Always be a beginner! ” His modest determination to start over and over again made him successful.

What is your approach to this book?

The aim was to find out why Rilke was treated like a philosopher and guru. The reason for this was that his wife had never forgiven him for leaving her, and when she became the literary administrator of the estate after his death, she censored his letters, leaving only spiritual or philosophical references in them.

What is different from other books about Rilke?

My book differs from other books because I brought Rilke to life in a novel.

Have you done a lot of research?

I’ve done a lot of research in the ten years I’ve written the book: reading the biographies of people who knew him, studying material from libraries like the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, the Bodmeriana in Geneva, and others. I spoke to people who had known his lover Elisabeth Klossowska and her son, the painter Balthus, with whom Rilke was friends, as well as to other researchers who had met Rilke’s daughter and his wife. For those who met him, he was impartial, not arrogant, with an easy demeanor and always polite. He was slightly built, rather small, with a large head and large blue eyes.

What are the most fascinating points in the book?

The most fascinating thing is the depth of the relationship between him and Elisabeth, which is reminiscent of the medieval lovers Abelard and HeloÏse. The beauty of the exchange between the two is breathtaking: “I go, I look, it looks like a hotel room and yet it was my house on earth. My garden of love, and nowhere, except in the ecstatic solitude of work, has my heart been so satisfied. On my last night I slept with your letter on my heart, I loved the faint little rose with true love. I ate the damp black grapes. I caressed the figs and inhaled the scent of the little flowers, which resembles those little nests you have in the intimacy of your beautiful arms, where you raise the young winged exaltations that fly high when you open your arms to your delighted friend . Goodbye Goodbye. Live from our inexhaustible treasures.“

Is the book more of a biography or a fiction?

The book is a biographical fiction or “faction”.

Who Should Read This Book?

Anyone who wants to know what it means to be a poet.

What books do you have next?

The next book I’m planning is the road trip with Rilke through Switzerland.

Finally: Why did you choose Saanen as your home?

I came to Switzerland in 2009 and liked the country so much that I started writing culture and travel books to promote tourism. I’ve lived everywhere, in a village called Eischoll in Valais, in Vevey in Vaud and in Geneva. In the end I found Gstaad in Saanenland so magical that I settled there.

«The author Farrol Kahn was born in South Africa in the 1960s. There he trained and became a journalist. He then lived in London and Oxford for most of his life. From 1996 to 2009 he was director of the non-profit Aviation Health Institute (AHI) in Oxford, which he founded when he was writing his book “Curse of Icarus” (Routledge 1990). The book highlighted the health risks of flying – cancer from sun exposure and blood clots from less oxygen in the aircraft cabin. Sir David Weatherall, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, was impressed with his book and became a member of the Advisory Board. Three more books on aerospace medicine followed, all of which are available on Amazon.


During his tenure at AHI, Farrol Kahn organized healthy flying events at airports such as Heathrow, Dublin, Copenhagen and Malta. A 28 year old athletic woman died after a flight London / Sydney / London. Her lungs were filled with blood clots. People were shocked that a young passenger could die on a long-haul flight. The reason for this is that there were no warnings that the airlines were protected by the Warsaw Convention of 1929, which had not been changed. Subsequently, Farrol Kahn received £2 million from the governments of the EU and the UK for research into deep vein thrombosis (DVT) carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO). This led to the development of compression stockings with a mercury value of 14 to 20 millimeters for air travelers.