Time With Rilke | A Rhapsodic Swiss Side Quest

Rilke bronze bust at Kunst Museum Winterthur
Rilke bronze bust at Kunst Museum Winterthur.

Figuratively and literally.

A few days ago, on a wonderfully fresh summers morning, I entered the Kunst Museum Winterthur in Northern Switzerland (twenty minutes outside of Zurich) for a private viewing of the Fritz Huf bronze head sculpture of poet Rainer Maria Rilke (see above). On the same day I traveled the two and a half hours into the Swiss Alps and to a tiny municipality called Raron (population nearly two thousand), to visit the grave of Rilke (see below):

Rilke's grave in Raron.
Rilke’s grave in Raron.

This story started in November 2018 when I came across this web article featuring the sculpture. It moved me deeply and after some research I found the museum which housed the piece and reached out to inquire as to its status. It was held in the archive and not currently shown.

The wonderful staff there sent me some information on it and also shared it was owned by a small Swiss municipality (on the Italian border), Commune di Collina d’oro (whom I tried to contact to no avail).

Apparently, the artist Huf had met Rilke in 1915 and the next day a portrait session occurred, although he went on to complete the work from memory. And what a sensitive and attentive creation it is. Small but bold, it evokes so much of the character of the subject through the slightly embellished elements of the features: from the gentle amplification of the brow, the plumpness of the round closed eyes, to the withdrawn cheeks to reveal the cheek bones and the fullness of the lips under the sweeping moustache.

So from first discovering this artistic impression of a poet who has spoken to me for so long, here I am, nearly four years later, spending over an hour in its company. It was very hard to leave:

There you are. In repose. Tenderly positioned, offering yourself to the darkness, again. A vulnerable attempt of being. Be careful what you find, please. But thank you far taking the plunge into the depths of the emotional landscape; a journey as an attempt to create connections between the worlds. A dimensional shift in experiencing the slavering potential of the soul.
Did it spare your spirit? How enriching to your present state was it? Where did the dangerous adventures finally exact its toll?
For such quests of longing and braveness means risking yourself for what: words? Ideas? Metaphor? You will never know the admiration. The gratefulness of others. How impressive you are to us. Then again would you care? It would probably arrest you for the briefest of time until you again hear the call of the black, sweet space between here and the invitation to explore deeper. And you would close your eyes, once more, and retreat into your melancholic kingdom.

What followed was an equally arresting afternoon trip and experience of visiting Rilke’s final resting place. Through and into the Swiss Alps via two train stops, just a short walk from the Raron’s train station I found myself at the foot of the rock spur which aloft sits the 16th Century St. Romanus Church and the aforementioned grave. At the foot is also the St. Michael rock church, which was created by carving out 6000 m3 of rock and opened in 1974 with a capacity for 500 people.

To get to the grave is a steep climb upwards and around the hill which whacks the breathe out of you⁠—although what a reward!

Apart from the small but impressive church and the grave of the poet, it’s the view out from where Rilke lays which is heavy in beauty (so much so i nearly missed my connecting train back out of the valley, so lost was I in the present vista):

The view of Raron from Rilke's grave
The view of Raron from Rilke’s grave

Of course you would be buried in such a luscious place like this.
Away from us all, elevated, remote, surrounded by splendid scenes to excite and overwhelm.
Teaching us still, that at the end of any challenging journey there’s potential for peace.

After reading so much of the mans words over the past twenty years and tweeting far too many of his lines (neatly curated here if you care), this has been an adventure in coming closer to a poet who’s work is soaked in melancholy and drenched in metaphor.

For those who are a fan if his work and find themselves in this part of Europe I urge you to explore the above locations as I guarantee it will be fuel for the soul which will echo deep within. As the man wrote:

Like someone on the final hill, which one more time shows him his entire valley, who turns, pauses, lingers—and so we live, constantly saying farewell.

The deepest of thanks to Angelika for making the bust available to view at the fantastic Kunst Museum Winterthur.
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