"The Walk" My eyes already touch the sunny hill, going far ahead of the road I have begun. So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp; it has its inner light, even from a distance – and changes us, even if we do not reach it, into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are; a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave ... but what we feel is the wind in our faces."The Walk" by Rainer Maria Rilke (1924) Translated by Robert Bly
Figures from Greek mythology (e.g. Apollo, Hermes, Orpheus) recur as motifs in his poems and are depicted in original interpretations (e.g. in the poem Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes, Rilke's Eurydice, numbed and dazed by death, does not recognize her lover Orpheus, who descended to hell to recover her). Other recurring figures in Rilke's poems are angels, roses and a character of a poet and his creative work.
Rilke often worked with metaphors, metonymy and contradictions (e.g. in his epitaph, the rose is a symbol of sleep – rose petals are reminiscent of closed eyelids).
Rilke's little-known 1898 poem, "Visions of Christ" depicted Mary Magdalene as the mother to Jesus' child.
Quoting Susan Haskins: "It was Rilke's explicit belief that Christ was not divine, was entirely human, and deified only on Calvary, expressed in an unpublished poem of 1893, and referred to in other poems of the same period, which allowed him to portray Christ's love for Mary Magdalen, though remarkable, as entirely human."
In the United States, Rilke is one of the more popular, best-selling poets—along with 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi (1207–1273), and 20th-century Lebanese-American poet Khalil Gibran (1883–1931). In popular culture, Rilke is frequently quoted or referenced in television programs, motion pictures, music and other works when these works discuss the subject of love or angels. Because of his work being described as "mystical," Rilke's works have also been appropriated for use by the New Age community and in self-help books. Rilke has been reinterpreted "as a master who can lead us to a more fulfilled and less anxious life."
Rilke's work, and specifically, the Duino Elegies have been claimed as a deep influence by several poets and writers, including Galway Kinnell, Sidney Keyes, Stephen Spender, Robert Bly, W. S. Merwin, John Ashbery, novelist Thomas Pynchon and philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hans-Georg Gadamer. British poet W. H. Auden (1907–1973) has been described as "Rilke's most influential English disciple" and he frequently "paid homage to him" or used the imagery of angels in his work.