In 1903, Rilke replied in a series of 10 letters to a student who had submitted some verses to the well-known Austrian poet for an assessment. Written during an important stage in Rilke’s artistic development, these letters contain many of the themes that later appeared in his best works. Essential reading for scholars, poetry lovers.
My Take, Why it’s worth a read:
I always underline in books, either for the wise quotes that teach or the pure beauty of the passage. About ten pages into this book, though, I gave up underlining as nearly every sentence was a combination of beauty and wisdom. These letters (to a young man he never even met) are inspiring in their honesty, teaching to cherish your solitude.
These ten letters from Rilke are a must-read for any hopeless heart who wants to be an artist–any kind of artist. The content of these letters isn’t so much a how-to on writing poetry as much as a how-to keep your artistic spirits up. Rilke expounds vividly on the importance of solitude, faith in one’s own vision, the excruciatingly frustrating nature of love, the fears of the future and monetary success, and how to soberly deal with the prevailing and daunting societal giants such as religion and the Great Art that came before you. These letters can be thumbed through in the time it takes to guzzle down a few cups of coffee but contain enough heft and heart to be kept close at hand for the dark times to come, those nervous moments when you look at the page, canvas, your secondhand acoustic guitar, and wonder, why bother? Rilke addresses these types of questions throughout his letters.
“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
About the Author:
Rainer Maria Rilke is considered one of the German language’s greatest 20th century poets.
His haunting images tend to focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety — themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets.
He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. His two most famous verse sequences are the Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland