18 March 2014

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet has long fascinated me as I first heard of it ......... well, a really really long time ago. Despite its tiny size, the book always intimidated me as I knew that the content was heavy, complex, deep.

Rilke, for those who don't know, wrote lyrical, mystical, intense poetry...in German. One I happen to like is called The Gazelle:
Enchanted thing: how can two chosen words
ever attain the harmony of pure rhyme
that pulses through you as your body stirs?
Out of your forehead branch and lyre climb

and all your features pass in simile through
the songs of love whose words as light as rose-
petals rest on the face of someone who
has put his book away and shut his eyes:

to see you: tensed as if each leg were a gun
loaded with leaps but not fired while your neck
holds your head still listening: as when

while swimming in some isolated place
a girl hears leaves rustle and turns to look:
the forest pool reflected in her face.
He wrote novels as well; although I am woefully unfamiliar with them. Whether in poetry or prose, his writing, I am sure, is much, much different when read in German. But back to Letters to a Young Poet. The title sums it up; this is a collection of letters Rilke wrote to a young poet named Franz Xaver Kappus. While the two men never met in person, they exchanged letters over a six year period, ten of them made it to the collection (to be honest, Rilke may have only written ten letters total; I'm not entirely sure).

These are life lessons from the truly deep mind of a man who believed in solitude as the great tool of the artist. Instead of writing much more in the way of a review, here are a few of the quotes which stood out to me:

  • "try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a 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."

  • "What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours...To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with  matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing."

  • "the fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another...For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don't think we can deal with."

  • "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."

I could go on...and on...every line is infused with a truth that is beautiful, arguable, and insightful. In other words, go read this if you haven't already. While the reading itself won't take any time at all, you could spend days pondering the content.

I read this for The Classics Club, which thrills me as it means I didn't just join the challenge, I may actually make some progress!

1 comment:

  1. I have never heard of this writer before, but I love me some good poetry, and that's such a good one. Thanks for sharing that poem, it's beautiful!


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