Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke
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Rilke's timeless letters about poetry, sensitive observation, and the complicated workings of the human heart.
Born in 1875, the great German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke published his first collection of poems in 1898 and went on to become renowned for his delicate depiction of the workings of the human heart. Drawn by some sympathetic note in his poems, young people often wrote to Rilke with their problems and hopes. From 1903 to 1908 Rilke wrote a series of remarkable responses to a young, would-be poet on poetry and on surviving as a sensitive observer in a harsh world. Those letters, still a fresh source of inspiration and insight, are accompanied here by a chronicle of Rilke's life that shows what he was experiencing in his own relationship to life and work when he wrote them.
which I felt in reading your verses without however being able specifically to name them. You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one
even if my nerves, which are jumpy, sometimes dread disturbance from outside or uncertainty in health, there is yet much in me that is gathering itself together, and my longing to do something good, something really good, was never so great as now. I feel as though I had been sleeping for years or had been lying in the lowest hold of a ship that, loaded with heavy things, sailed through strange distances----- Oh to climb up on deck once more and feel the winds and the birds, and to see how the
have to shape your art. And the second point about which I wanted to tell you today is this: Of all my books just a few are indispensable to 24 me, and two even are always among my things, wherever I am. They are about me here too: the Bible, and the books of the great Danish writer, Jens Peter Jacobsen. I wonder whether you know his works. You can easily get them, for some of them have come out in very good translation in Reclam’s Universal Library. Get yourself the little volume of Six
greater than pleasure and pain and more powerful than will and withstanding. O that man might take this 86 secret, of which the world is full even to its littlest things, more humbly to himself and bear it, endure it, more seriously and feel how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it lightly. That he might be more reverent toward his fruitfulness, which is but one, whether it seems mental or physical; for intellectual creation too springs from the physical, is of one nature with it and
with winds. And gardens are here, un forgettable avenues and flights of stairs, stairs de vised by Michelangelo, stairs that are built after the pattern of downward-gliding waters—broadly 42 bringing forth step out of step in their descent like wave out of wave. Through such impressions one collects oneself, wins oneself back again out of the pretentious multiplicity that talks and chat ters there ( and how talkative it is!), and one learns slowly to recognize the very few things in which