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.”
Forgetfulness, by Billy Collins
One of the positive things about our extended time of quarantine for the Covid-19 virus, is that there have been so many excellent online events and experiences to lift our spirits and remind us of the beautiful and special things in life. I found one of those online events and enjoyed an amazing performance serial of the classic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I read it once long ago (in high school), and probably wouldn’t have read it again until I found this link. It’s a MUST experience, because each section is read by a different performing artist, and the artwork that accompanies it is phenomenal. It’s a completely immersive art experience, and is incredibly powerful. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the experience!
everything here seems to need us
~Rainer Maria Rilke
This poem by Ellen Bass speaks to my heart today, so I wanted to share it with you. With the news filled with sadness and madness, we must try harder each day to feel that “invisible tug between you and everything.” The beautiful words of Ellen Bass remind us that each one of us is a precious meaningful being, and that each one of us can and must make a positive difference in a world gone mad.
Kim Stafford is the Poet Laureate of Oregon. He’s a wonderful poet, as was his father, William Stafford. He’s been publishing on InstaGram a series of poems during this pandemic and time of quarantine, and I’ve looked forward to reading each one.
Here is his poem that greeted me this morning. He introduces it by saying, “In the web of our connections now, there are no random strangers. All become kin in our mutual concern.”
His work is another one of the beautifully creative endeavors that are helping us get through this crazy time with compassion and understanding.
CLICK HERE to visit his own website.
CLICK HERE to visit his InstaGram page.
Today, May 8th, is Gary Snyder’s birthday. He’s 90 years old! I have a book of his poems, Regarding Wave, bought long ago when Byron and I were newly married. That book has traveled with us through all our moves and book purges. I still enjoy opening it occasionally and revisiting some of my favorites in that slim little volume.
Here’s one that I loved way back then, and still do…and it seems quite appropriate to reread it during this time of shelter-at-home. Also, by coincidence, our grandson is named Kai, so there is even a greater connection to this poem now. Isn’t it interesting how a poem weaves itself into your life in many different ways?
Queries to My Seventieth Year
~ by Walt Whitman
Approaching, nearing, curious,
Thou dim, uncertain spectre–bringest thou life or death?
Or placid skies and sun? Wilt stir the waters yet?
Or haply cut me short for good? Or leave me here as now,
Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack’d voice harping, screeching?
Sharing this poem is part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.