Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, is a gem of a book. It consists of ten letters written to a young man who wrote to Rilke for advice on how to become a successful poet. These ten letters revealed the heart and soul of Rilke himself, and all were full of wisdom about finding what you are passionate about in life and living true to that vision.

Rilke’s first response to the young poet was to tell him that he should not look outside himself for advice…

Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.

As the correspondence between the two men continued, the conversations became even more heartfelt, and were beautiful exchanges about life and living, growing and becoming, as both an artist and a human being.

In one of the early letters, Rilke recommended an author he admired and suggested the young poet read those works. I loved that sharing a favorite book was important to him, and his explanation of how that book had touched his life was quite wonderful…

Get hold of the little volume called Six Tales by J. P. Jacobsen, and his novel Niels Lyhne, and start with the first story in the former book, which is called Mogens. A world will come over you, the happiness, the wealth, the inconceivable greatness of a world. Live for a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. Your love will be repaid a thousand thousandfold, and whatever your life may become,—will, I am convinced, run through the texture of your growing as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.

One more nugget of gold about Life:

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

This book is a little treasure that I will return to many times because his beautiful writing and his wise words touch my heart.

I chose this book for my 50 books in 5 years for The Classics Club.

 

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