Monday, October 21, 2013

Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

This is going to be a different kind of review. I'm mostly just going to share some quotes with you, but I wanted to tell you a little bit about my experience with this book first. To begin with, I've never read a poem by Rilke to my knowledge. I'm sure that somewhere along my college career I've read a poem or two of his, but I don't recall it. What drew me to this book was the beautiful design of it and the fact that I just can't pass up a book of letters. There's something about reading letters that I just love. What I didn't expect was to fall so in love with this man's writing and to be so awestruck with his progressive thinking at the dawn of the 20th century. It reminds me that there are always progressive thinkers and there always have been, but we have to continue to fight to be heard. Here, have a few quotes from this brief, but beautiful tome:

This quote, in particular, I loved. It told me immediately, I'm not a writer :p Though I do enjoy writing, I don't NEED to write every day. But I gained quite a bit of profound insight from it. No matter what you do with your life, it's a question worth it something that you MUST do. For me, counseling is that thing. I crave it even on a bad sit with my clients and help them untangle the webs of their lives. And in doing so, I gain just as much. Here's the quote I'm talking about:

"Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches it's roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple, 'i must,' then construct your life according to this necessity, your life right into it's most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge. 

I really took that to heart. For me, I'm not a writer...but I'm a counselor, a gardener, a reader, a son, a lover of music. I'm many things. For others, there are other things that may fit the above criteria. But I thought this was put so beautifully in a way that I had never thought of things before.

This next quote made me think of something that I was just talking about the other day...a problem that I often have with anthologies. I was saying "why do editors settle for mediocre short stories." My complaint was that I've rarely read an anthology where every short story in the anthology has been fantastic and I often wonder why an editor would "settle" for some of those stories. And then of course, logic came to me that the world did not revolve around me and what didn't work for me may be the story of the year to another person. Rilke captures this perfectly in this short quote:

"Works of art are infinitely solitary and nothing is less likely to reach them than criticism. Only love can grasp them and hold them and do them justice." 

In other coal, someone else's diamond. This next quote has just been extremely pertinent to me personally lately and it was so beautiful and so true....perfect advice:

"...all still lies ahead of you, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in a foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: the cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future. 

Here is where he truly won my heart over...this first quote written in July of 1903:

"And perhaps the sexes are more closely related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in man and woman, freed of all sense of error and disappointment, seeking one another out not as opposites but as brothers and sisters and neighbors, and they will join together as human beings, to share the heavy weight of sexuality that is laid upon them with simplicity, gravity and patience. 

And this in May of 1904:

"One day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer just signify the opposite of the male but something in their own right, something which does not make one think of any supplement or limit but only of life and existence: the female human being.
This step forward will tranform the experience of love, which is now full of error, alter it root and branch, reshape it into a relation between two human beings and no longer between man and woman.

And finally, I truly loved Rilke's comfort with solitude and his meditation on it throughout the book, while he also showed that a life of companionship is a valid choice for others as well. Though neither is easy, it's a choice that's our own to make:

"It is good to be alone, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult should be one more reason to do it.
To love is also good, for love is hard. Love between one person and another: that is perhaps the hardest thing it is laid on us to do, the utmost, the ultimate trial and test, the work for which all other work is just preparation." 


Carole McDonnell said...

We live in a day where we don't keep letters written by great folks. Heck, great folks don't write letters much. Everyone emails now. A great loss, the loss of epistolic advice.

Debi said...

I'm not much of a letter reader. Not sure why. Maybe I've just never given them much of chance. But these quotes you shared really are beautiful.

Snowball said...

I've never read anything of Rilke's besides his poetry - but I soon will. Thank you.

This is one of my favorites:

The Unicorn

The saintly hermit, midway through his prayers
stopped suddenly, and raised his eyes to witness
the unbelievable: for there before him stood
the legendary creature, startling white, that
had approached, soundlessly, pleading with his eyes.

The legs, so delicately shaped, balanced a
body wrought of finest ivory. And as
he moved, his coat shone like reflected moonlight.
High on his forehead rose the magic horn, the sign
of his uniqueness: a tower held upright
by his alert, yet gentle, timid gait.

The mouth of softest tints of rose and grey, when
opened slightly, revealed his gleaming teeth,
whiter than snow. The nostrils quivered faintly:
he sought to quench his thirst, to rest and find repose.
His eyes looked far beyond the saint's enclosure,
reflecting vistas and events long vanished,
and closed the circle of this ancient mystic legend.

Andi said...

I read this book when I was younger was mentioned in Sister Act 2. FOR SHAME! Anyway, I adored it, no matter where the rec came from. Such a beautiful, thoughtful book.

Daphne said...

Isn't this a beautiful book? I'm so glad you loved it.

Susan said...

I love this book, and each time I read it, I find something new and true in it.

It is brave and courageous of you to look deep into yourself and realize that you don't need to write, that you would die if you didn't. For me, the realization I had that I was writing poetry and that I have always written poetry, and that I have to write it, was such a stunning shocker - I wanted to be a writer, not a poet! lol but there it is. We can only honour our souls, and I'm so happy Rilke wrote his book of wisdom so that those of us who need it, find it, so many years later. It's an amazing and powerful little book, isn't it?