Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Rainer Maria Rilke was a Bohemian-Austrian poet whose intense style, even referred to as mystical, dealt man’s existence and ways to deal with solitude and anxiety. He stressed that with free will the individual had to assume the responsibility for their own acts, even if they lacked a clear knowledge of what was right and wrong.  

Franz Xaver Kappus was 19-year-old in the Austrian army when he started corresponding with Rilke, who in return, over the next 6 years, sent him 10 letters. The two never met, but Kappus sought out advice on the poems he had written and in his interest in a literary career.

Author and critic Stephen Mitchell’s in 1989 translated some of Rilke’s selected works and said that “Rilke is unquestionably the most significant and compelling poet of the romantic transformation of spiritual quest that the twentieth century has known.”

Rilke’s letters offer some real insight into creative thinking and writing as well as a surprising level of cordiality. He said: "There is nothing less apt to touch a work of art than critical words: all we end up with there is more or less felicitous misunderstandings.” He added that "Nobody can advise you and help you. There is only one way. Go into yourself.  Examine the reason that bids you to write . . . ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write? Read the lines as if they were unknown to you, and you will feel in your inmost self how very much they are yours."

The letters also offer thoughts on just living with phrases like these: "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."

The book “Letters to a Young Poet” is the collection of letters that Kappus compiled and published in 1929—three years after Rilke's death from leukemia. It offers a different way to look at poetry and writing and some philosophy on life.

Quotes

“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.” 

 “Let everything happen to you                                                                    Beauty and terror                                                                                                Just keep going
No feeling is final” 

 “To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” 

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.”

 “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us. Every angel is terrible"