For the last five years of his life the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) lived at Castle Muzot — barely a castle, more a castellated house — which impressively overlooks the broad, high-sided valley of the upper Rhône. Rilke had been looking for a permanent place to stay in Switzerland since the summer of 1919. After two years of unsettled and fruitless searching he finally chanced upon a photo of Castle Muzot in a shop window in Sierre, and immediately fell in love with the place. It was available for rent. Thanks to the patronage of Werner Reinhart, who subsequently bought and renovated Muzot, Rilke was able to live there rent-free and relatively untroubled till the end of his life. It was here that he spent his most intensively productive years — completing The Duino Elegies which he'd begun in a gifted trance at Castle Duino near Trieste; writing The Sonnets To Orpheus in rapid bursts of frenzied inspiration; composing nearly four hundred lyric poems in French (many of them evoking the beauty of his beloved Valais, the Swiss canton where he now lived); and translating the works of Paul Valéry, his favourite French poet.
On Thursday 5 January I stepped from the railway station at Sierre in a quest for Castle Muzot. According to the girl in the tourist office it was easy to find — though she seemed rather surprised I was going on foot. Armed with maps, I set off uphill in the direction of Veyras. The rain poured down. Remnants of hard-packed snow made some sections of the pavement tricky to negotiate. After three-quarters of an hour I'd reached the village of Veyras, on the north-western slope above Sierre. I headed up the Route du Moulin. There, suddenly, on my right-hand side, behind a small vineyard, was Muzot! Smaller than I'd envisaged, more compact, more hemmed in now by the houses and chalets which had sprung up over the last fifty years. But it was Muzot nonetheless — despite the 'Private' sign at the gate, despite the cold and the rain, despite the mist partially obscuring the superb view down the Rhône valley. And there still, in the garden, stood the poplar tree about which Rilke went into such ecstasies!
|Here's Rilke at Castle Muzot with the lover of his final years, the painter Baladine Klossowska (1886-1969) — or 'Merline', as he affectionately called her. She was married to the art historian Erich Klossowska, but they separated in 1917. Baladine was the mother of the artist Balthus and the writer Pierre Klossowska.|
This is the fine eighteenth-century building of the Maison de Courten, Rue du Bourg 30, Sierre. It's home to the Rainer Maria Rilke Foundation, which was established in 1986 to promote knowledge of Rilke's work through exhibitions, lectures, conferences and publications. The museum is open to the public between April and October each year. And every third year the Foundation stages a Rilke festival.
Rilke is buried in the churchyard at Raron/Rarogne, a little further up the Rhône valley. The self-composed epitaph on his gravestone reads, enigmatically:
Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust,
Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel
(Rose, oh pure contradiction, delight
of being no one's sleep under so
(All images from Wikimedia Commons)