Letters to a young poet

imgLetters to a young poet (1934)

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Kappus is an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army trying to decide if he should stay in the army, or become a poet. He sends an example of his poetry to his contemporary Rilke asking for advice. What results is a series of letters exchanged between the two from 1903 to 1908, full of insights that extend far beyond poetry.

Here are some of my favorite quotes – the entire compilation is a delight to read:

“… You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

“It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginner in everything are not capable of love: it is something they must learn… Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent–?)…”

“The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of.”

” So you musn’t be frightened dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have 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. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside of you?”

“And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure. His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find the words.”

“In this, there is no measuring of time, a year doesn’t matter; and ten years are nothing. 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 the spring, not afraid that the afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those that are patient, who are there as if eternity lays before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it everyday of my life; I learn it with pain I am grateful for; patience is everything.”

“And as for the rest, let life happen to you.”

 

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