I would like to put in a word for Farrol Kahn’s superb novel, [working title] THE SWISS LOVERS, about the Swiss period of Rilke’s life. It is a large book that lends the subject a truly Proustian perspective It does so particularly through its language, a remarkable feat of using the English language to recreate the work of a German poet–as well as the entire world of the first quarter of the 20th century-. It stirs and sustains the reader ‘s involvement throughout. In fact, I believe that it may become one of the more significant works in our time. I’ve had (and am having) my own dance with Rilke, but this is not a disguised biography but the presentation in a complex modern novel of a life and an epoch in Western history before and immediately after World War I: the breakup and (temporary) reconstitution of our world. The animation of Rilke, changing with and against this social perspective is carried out brilliantly.

I’m aware of the fact that this sounds like so much hyperbole but it is impersonal. I don’t know this author very well but I’ve come to know him particularly through reading this work which is skilfully reconstructed as a life. It begins at the point when Rilke met the woman who, above all his many love relationships, was his most incisive inspiration during the final years of his life. From this vantage point Farrol Kahn radiates outward-back to Rilke’s origins and forward to his destiny and early death.

I believe that both the experimental approach of this novel and its panoramic view of life in the early twentieth century may attract a following of Rilke enthusiasts and beyond.

Ralph Freedman

Author of Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke

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.

Rilke in Kansas 2021

I recently came across George Schoolfield’s lecture in 1966 titled Rilke’s Last Year. It was a revelation as I discovered that Kansas University had a collection of 1,600 items that had been given by Dr Henry Sagan.

“He was one of the most devoted and best informed of Rilke’s collectors,” said Schoolfield who gave a masterful and amusing account of the items ranging from 1927 to 1946 including the two former lovers, Loulou Albert-Lasard and Magda von Hattingberg, woke up suddenly in the middle of the night the moment Rilke died! Yet his greatest supporter Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis did not experience such a dramatic awakening – she received a telegram four days after his death after returning from a walk.

“Among them is a collection of the essays, addresses, and poetry which were written and published in response to Rilke’s death. Some
material of this sort, by more or less famous hands, has long been familiar to Rilke scholars.” Names like Robert Musil, Edmond Jaloux, Stefan Zweig and Robert Faesi (he paid homage twice – to students at Zurich University and then at the Landestheater in Stuttgart.) are mentioned in the obituary eulogies.

“And there is the noble tribute of Paul Valery, which, because it
contains personal recollections, is so much more moving than certain of the German threnodies with their splendid abstractions—” But what is not mentioned is the special relationship between Rilke, Boris Pasternak (the same who wrote Dr Zhivago) and Marina Tsvetayeva who wrote the New Year Letter in 1927 to come to terms with his death.

For the rest, Schoolfield provides a fascinating summary of Rilke’s last year, 1926. He delves into the legend that he was poisoned by the thorns of a rose, his dehumanisation, fatal illness and sexual encounters of which Princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis once said that Don Juan was an orphan boy compared to Rilke. Schoolfield’s last word is to recommend future biographers to discover and to value the human Rilke through consulting the Kansas University’s archive.

Lady Gaga’s Tattoo

Lady Gaga has a quote from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke tattooed on her left arm. The lines are from Letters to a Poet which was written to Franz Xaver Kappus on February 17, 1903. “In the deepest hour of the night, confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write. And look deep into your heart where it spreads its roots, the answer, and ask yourself, must I write?”

See her interview on youtube


Lady Gaga aka the Queen of Pop was a musical wunderkind who could play the piano at the age of four. Today, she is an American songwriter, actress and singer who sang the national anthem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021.

Balthus the Artist

To some the appearance of the Polish-French artist Balthus Klossowski in the Rilke book might come as a surprise. The same applies to his older brother Pierre the super intellectual. But Balthus in fact plays an important part in the book because his mother was Rilke’s mistress and muse and he was befriended by Rilke who was also responsible for his education.

There was also another aspect to the young Balthus because he had a talent for detective work. In the period that he lived in Berlin, he worked with police to bring a criminal gang to justice. Later in Geneva, he solved another case of a murdered American tourist. With regard to art he benefited from visits to the Berlin police headquarters at Alexanderplatz. Read more on page 59.

Rilkes Welt

Festschrift for August Stahl on his 75th birthday

When my book was a work-in-progress, I was privileged to be invited to give talks to the members of the Rilke Gesellschaft. As my knowledge of German was rudimentary, a bilingual friend translated the English sentences which I read from the manuscript into German.

One of the memorable events was a conference at the Evangelische Akademie Bad Boll in 2008 on Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Valery. I was involved in a workshop on Rilke, Valery and his mistress Catherine Pozzi.

I had contrasted the two couples as the antithesis of each other. Rilke and Elisabeth Klossowska as the great passion like Abelard and Heloise while Valery and Pozzi opted for a more modern interpretation. They looked upon their relationship as a fusion of two light atoms to create a heavier third, energy-rich.

The highlight during this period was to be asked to contribute to Rilkes Welt: Festschrift For August Stahl on his 75th birthday, the renowned Rilke scholar.

Rilkes Welt (Peter Lang 2009) encompasses Rilke’s concept of ‘world’, his inclusion of ‘world’, the literary design and its reception are the focus of this volume of essays. In around 50 contributions by international literary scholars and Rilke researchers, it presents the many facets in the life and work of the European poet from Prague and thus not only gives an impression of Rilke’s work, but also of its importance for literary and cultural history.

The occasion of the publication was the birthday of August Stahl, his literary work and personal commitment to the development, dissemination and understanding of Rilke – far beyond his work as the then President of the International Rilke Society – of Rilke researchers, Rilke readers and Rilke lovers is recognized.

For this reason, a list of the writings related to Rilke by August Stahl concludes the anthology, which aims to open up many dimensions of Rilke’s ‘world’.

Victoria Station

My dance with Rilke began on Victoria station when I commuted from London to West Sussex. I usually arrived with 10 minutes to spare to catch the hourly train and I would check the books at the W.H.Smith shop on the platform. It was there that I found Stephen Mitchell’s Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. I was entranced. It took me a decade to complete my book on the poet. 

In the journey of discovery, I came to see a different side of his character. No longer the guru who imparted wisdom, but the real person shone through. A flesh and blood lover who adored woman. An obdurate man of moods and above all, one who cared deeply for others whether it be a waif on the streets or a hungry dog with imploring eyes.

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.