Tuesday, May 18, 2010


FAQ with textual analysis, context, and several suggestions for your own Rilke-quote tattoo

Nothing has drummed up more traffic for this blog than a recent passing reference made to Lady Gaga’s chic, ultra-literary tattoo quoting a quotation from the illustrious, Russian-Polish, transgendered poet and renowned global explorer Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1999). Clearly, the Lady’s admirers long to know more about this mysterious tattoo quote, about the life and philosophies and quotes of Rainer Maria Rilke, and about alternative quotes to quote for their own Gaga/Rilke-inspired tattoos. As a published author and America's "leading" Rilke scholar, I offer this list of "Frequently Asked Questions" to serve as a "central clearinghouse" of sorts for all matters Gaga-Rilkean:

Does Lady Gaga have a Rilke tattoo?

Did she cringe when she got it?
No freaking way. She's Lady Gaga.

What does Lady Gaga’s Rilke tattoo say?
The tattoo’s text, or "quote," as translated from the original Bohemian quote by noted quote translator Jack Dempsey, reads as follows:
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?
NOTE: While I regard Dempsey as the authoritative translator of Rilke into English (as does Lady Gaga, apparently), some lesser scholars prefer the more literal translations crafted by Britain’s Nigel Tufnel. I shall endeavor to keep that ongoing and intensely bitter debate from complicating this post.

What does Lady Gaga’s Rilke tattoo mean?
As with any translated text, Lady Gaga’s tattoo is subject to interpretation and extrapolation. For instance, scholars differ on the phrase “the deepest hour of the night” (“die verhungerteStunde des Geschlechtesnacht” in the original Bohemian). While some academics (e.g., Noam Chomsky, Theodore Pendergrass, Cormac McCarthy) maintain that the hour from three to four a.m. is “the deepest hour” due to its statistical tendency to yield profound insights and its disproportionally high rate of failed suicide attempts, strict ironic literalists (Ernest Hemingway, Michele Foucault) regard midnight to one o’clock as “deeper” due to the greater numerical value of its digits.

But what does it really mean?
To put it plainly, Rilke is quoting that if a person were prevented from texting, tweeting, etc., then said person should submit to an invasive internal body scan (Rilke steadfastly refuses to specify whether said scan is intended literally or metaphorically), the results of which should reveal whether cancer cells are present in either malign or benignant form. This comes under frequent debate, hence the author’s numerous legal challenges of mistranslations. Lady Gaga has yet to quote her position. So to speak. [Check back frequently for updates.]

Who exactly was and/or is Rainer Maria Rilke?
Though Polish with mixed Russian blood, Rilke is widely regarded as the first "German" to discover "Paris."

Why is he/she famous?
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote six highly quotable books on etiquette. Historical documents (including rigorously analyzed photographic evidence) confirm Rilke’s claim to have "survived" the Holocoaust without dying. It is not widely recognized that Rilke's poem "Schürhakengeknittertesgesicht" (c. 1977) serves as inspiration for Lady Gaga’s hit song, "Paparazzi." He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962 and an Olympic Gold Medal for bobsledding in 1984.

Was Rilke the Lady Gaga of his/her era?
Yes. Definitely.

Was Rilke pretty?
Yes, especially when his/her Adam's apple wasn't bobbing up and down like a "hyperactive yo-yo."

What is the correct pronunciation of "Rilke"?
It rhymes with "silky."

What are the lyrics of “Archaic Torso of Apollo”?
They can be found "here" and "here."

In the song “Disco Stick,” when Lady Gaga says she wants to “take a ride on his disco stick,” is she referring to Rilke?
No. This is a reference to Mark Strand.

Does Lady Gaga keep Rainer Maria Rilke’s corpse in a bronze case above her mantel?
Notwithstanding serious "structural modifications" to a wall and/or mantel, bronze cases are too heavy to mount up high like that.

So, was Rilke, like, Lady Gaga’s Mother Monster?
Answer unknown.

Um, but, hey, are you bluffin’ with your muffin?
I’m deadly serious here. Feel free to quote this post in "academic research," with complete confidence in the accuracy of the information quoted herein.

  • "You must change your wife." - Rilke
  • "All the soarings of my mind begin in my bowels." - Rilke
  • "Believe that with your feelings and your work you are the Greatest; the more strongly you cultivate this belief, the more will reality and the world flee forth from it." - Rilke
  • "For one human being to bluff another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation." - Rilke
  • "If you stand toe-to-toe with this bum, he'll kill you. It doesn't take a man to stand there and get your head beat off! He's just a man, Rilk, so be MORE man than him! Go get him! Eye of the Panther!" - Rilke
  • "He reproduced himself with so much humble objectivity, with the unquestioning, matter-of-fact interest of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks: there's another dog." - Rilke

[Legal Notice: This post may or may not be subject to modification. Any copyright infringement is purely voluntary and malicious. Please notify the author regarding requests for enhancement.]

NOTE: If you have any questions about Rilke, Rilke tattoos, or Rilke quotes, please quote your questions here in the comments, and I'll endeavor to get back to you as soon as possible with my own quote in response.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Lady Gaga's Dress and Other Love Stories


  1. Thank you for this valuable resource.

  2. I have to teach "Archaic Torso of Apollo" to gangster dropouts at an alternative school. This blog will prove to be immeasurably helpful in my tutoring. And I'm for realz

  3. I'm sorry to be an anonymous internet pedant, but 'Rilke' does not rhyme with 'Silky',
    and I think we can all agree that while the man was a genius to be honest his poetry wasn't much chop after late 1926...

    Anyhoo, I just stopped by while on a mission to verify somethin' someone said to me last night, which was that Rilke's "Creature That Has Never Been" was part of the inspiration for Bladerunner.

    This article has managed to fractionally raise Lady Gaga in my esteem, something that I did not expect to happen today. Ugly, ugly tattoo, though.


  4. Dear Anonymous Internet Pedant:

    Thank you for your pedantic anonymity, but "Rilke" most certainly rhymes with "silky"--and also "ukelele" (with proper Bohemian pronunciation). As for the quality of his poetry, he hit a serious second wind circa 1948-1967 and an unprecedented third wind in 1988 when he collaborated with Madonna on her third album.

    Little known fact: Rilke had a small cameo in Bladerunner.

    All best wishes,
    Eric Bosse
    World's Foremost Rilke Scholar

  5. Hmmmm. Ok, sure. You're the WFRS.

    " " Rilkee" " it is.


    I like your blog. When Australia gets fast internet I'll watch a film or two.


  6. Dear Anonymous Intenet Pedant:

    How soon will that be, AIP? Because it seems like Australia should try to keep up with the rest of the world. We know it's unlikely, but shouldn't you at least try?

    Eric Bosse

  7. "Russian-Polish, transgendered poet and renowned global explorer Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1999)"...C'mon! He was a Bohemian–Austrian (you can't have a more typical german name!!!) poet that had such a huge impact on and contributed so much to german literature. Why are you hiding his germanic heritage? Are you germanophobic?

  8. Anonymous is correct...the /e/ at the end of Rilke is pronounced like the /e/ at the beginning of egg. Rilke does not rhyme with silky..Rilkie does.

  9. Dear Ilona (which, by the way, should be capitalized),

    You and Anonymous are both incorrect. There are no slashes around the e at the end of Rilke, therefore it is pronounced like the ee at the beginning of eegg.

    All my love,
    Eric Bosse
    World's Foremost Rilke Scholar

  10. The quote "our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures." is often attributed to Rilke and is said to come from to the book Letters to a Young Poet.

    However I don't find anything very close to that in the book. He does say "perhaps all of the Dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave." (translation by M.D. Herter Norton)

    Do you know if there is a translation of that work closer to the former quote, or if it comes from somewhere else? I'd be interested in your view.


    Dan Gerson

  11. Where can I go to one translated like hers?