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Rainer Maria Rilke. A passion for Lou Andreas Salome, a free-spirited Russian writer
Born in St. Petersburg, Lou Andreas Salomé (1861-1937) combined erotic sensuality, exceptional beauty and a sharp intelligence that enchanted men and women who spent time in her company.
The tutor to the Tsar of Russia’s children wanted to marry her when she was 17 years old.
Aged 21, Lou Andreas Salome married Carl Friedrich Andreas on the condition that they never consummated the marriage. They never lived together; she met and fell in love with various influential men. In her mid-30s, she met Rainer Maria Rilke. He became infatuated with her until she eventually agreed to be his lover while she taught him Russian so he could read the novels and poems of great Russian authors.
She persuaded Rilke to change his name to Rainer as it sounded ‘more masculine’ than Raine.
Lou became the first person to publish some of the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. She became the lover of Paul Ree, a German author and philosopher, who later committed suicide. This sent Lou into a spiral of depression. Viennese doctor Friedrich Pineles gave her counsel until she emerged out of the despair. The doctor and Lou became lovers.
In 1911, she met Sigmund Freud. She joined the Viennese Psychoanalytical Circle and became the first woman psychoanalyst. She worked in Gotinga, Germany. She wrote numerous articles and a number of books to support herself.
The exchange of letters over years between Rilke and Lou is available as a book. One of her books is entitled The Erotic, available in paperback. In this book, she wrote: “..the basis of eroticism, that means sexuality, needs to be explored at greater depth.” She wrote that she was in “favour of a more modern erotic freedom.”
Her intellectual understanding and her passionate commitments weaved a spell in the various circles that she moved. She stayed friends with Freud until her death in 1937.
Lou Andreas Salome has remained largely unknown to the European public unlike men in her life such as Rilke, Nietzsche and Freud. Interest in her life of passion and her writings have grown since the release of the film in 2016 In Love with Lou – about her relationship with Rilke.
Andreas, her husband, died in 1930. She died seven years later, aged 76.
This is probably the best known poem of Lou Andreas-Salomé with her best known two lines at the end.
Hymn To Life
Surely, a friend loves a friend the way
That I love you, enigmatic life —
Whether I rejoiced or wept with you,
Whether you gave me joy or pain.
I love you with all your harms;
And if you must destroy me,
I wrest myself from your arms,
As a friend tears himself away from a friend’s breast.
I embrace you with all my strength!
Let all your flames ignite me,
Let me in the ardor of the struggle
Probe your enigma ever deeper.
To live and think millennia!
Enclose me now in both your arms:
If you have no more joy to give me —
Well then—there still remains your pain.