Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

lettersFind in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; And as for the rest, let life happen to you. p19

The thing with writing is that it is most beautiful when it is unintentional, when it does not demand answers from the mirror upon a wall. Such is the case with this particular collection of letters from R.M. Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old budding poet. 

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor. p6


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Initially Kappus had written to him in search of counsel on whether his poetry was good enough, but Rilke went on to speak on life, truth and art; the immortal questions behind every question.

There is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy…But perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain. p12

It may be of interest to some to learn that Lady Gaga has a quotation from the one of the letters tattooed on her upper arm:

Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? p6

It is a short collection, a book to be read in one sitting. Like all well written pieces, this one speaks to a larger audience, assuming an ephemeral eternity upon a world stage. The advice he gives to Kappus is transcendent.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. p18

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Wangechi Mutu Art

What Rilke is whispering between the pages is: this is how to find yourself, to infuse yourself into life and find freedom where there seem only chains.

Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for. p8

This is a book intended not to preach but to reveal ourselves to ourselves. You will not hear until you are ready to listen.

If a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. p18




One thought on “Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

  1. a lullaby that make you sleep in your usual everyday world, yet an alarm that wakes you into yet another world. The 1st Wangeti muchu art itself is a Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth
    ‘To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours — that is what you must be able to attain. p12’, whoa, hell is hot but this line here WHOA


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