I was introduced to this poet by my friend Nga earlier this year. She asked if I had ever read Letters To a Young Poet after I had introduced her to The Tao of Pooh. I had never heard of Rilke but kept him in my mind as someone whose works I should read. I then saw him mentioned again in the book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Page 40. “The Western poet Rainer Maria Rilke has said that our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure.” / Pg 320. “As Rilke wrote, the protected hear that is ‘never exposed to loss, innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness; only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free, through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.'”) I then knew I should waste no more time and began to read his letters. His very first letter seemed as though he was speaking directly to me as his advice about writing is something I’ve been doing for most of my life. As far as I know I’m the only one who keeps a life journal in which I write down my thoughts freely. I have a very acute sense of the passage of time and want to record my memories, and experiences; I want to live life as fully as possible. Every experience, every memory is a jewel and this blog is my treasure vault, my greatest possession. Sometimes I feel as though I’m simply a tourist, experiencing an interactive ride that moves along a predetermined path, yet sometimes, and with great effort can I change the course of the ride (or perhaps how I experience it) if I wish. Perhaps another soul is beginning this same ride in an identical amusement park and living the same experiences I now call memories?
I get ahead of myself. This post is to record quotes by Rilke, many of which give me confidence that what I do with this blog is not crazy, I’m not alone. It is as though he is a kindred spirit; and although I am certainly no poet and have only read his letters very recently, I have written according to his advice for many years and had many of these same thoughts.
Letters to a Young Poet
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Letter One – February 17th, 1903
“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsay able than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”
“This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.”
“So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.”
“And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.”
“Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create.”
Letter Three – April 23rd, 1903
“In it there is nothing that does not seem to have been understood, held, lived, and known in memory’s wavering echo; no experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.”
Letter Four – July 16th, 1903
“If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”
For those who are near you are far away, you write, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast. And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.
Letter Six – December 23rd 1903
“What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours – that is what you must be able to attain. 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.
And when you realize that their activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own world, from the vastness of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why should you want to give up a child’s wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn, since not understanding is, after all, a way of being alone, whereas defensiveness and scorn are a participation in precisely what, by these means, you want to separate yourself from.”
Letter Eight – August 12th, 1904
“We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that people have in this sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the experiences that are called it apparitions, the whole so-called “spirit world,” death, all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our daily defensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God.”
“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. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.”