The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.

This quote is widely attributed to the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, but I cannot find the source. Where did he say or write this?

1 Answer 1


It seems to be from the poem "Der Schauende", variously translated into English as "The Man Watching" or "The Beholder". The original German text of this quote is:

Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
Sein Wachstum ist: der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu sein.

It's been translated into English in a number of ways, including:

I think I got lucky finding this. When I searched Google for "rilke The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things", most of the results were lists of Rilke quotes including this as a platitude, like Goodreads and Brainyquote, but one or two hits mentioned this poem, including this blog post, which gave me the name of the poem I needed to search for to find out more.

  • 2
    Just thought I'd add that the third translation is closest to the original. Jan 31, 2018 at 8:33

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