Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

I have selected a singular passage from each of Rainer Maria Rilke’s 10 letters to Franz Xaver Kappus (Letters to a Young Poet).

Letter I

Everything cannot be so easily grasped and conveyed as we are generally led to believe; most events are unconveyable and come to pass in a space that no word has ever penetrated; more unconveyable than all else are art-works, those mysterious existences, whose lives run alongside ours, which perishes, whereas their endure. (p. 29)

Letter II

Whatever happens in your life, your love will be repaid a thousand times–and will be, I am sure, one of the most important threads running through the tapestry of your becoming, amidst the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys. (p. 37)

Letter III

To let every impression and every seed of a feeling realize itself on its own, in the dark, in the unconveyable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of your understanding, and to await with deep humility and patience the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is to live artistically, in understanding as in creation. (p. 40)

Letter IV

You’re so young, so far from any beginning; I should like to ask you, dear sir, as well as I can, to show patience towards everything in your heart that has not been resolved and to try and cherish the questions themselves, like sealed rooms and books written in a language that is very foreign. Do not hunt for the answers just no–they cannot be given to you because you cannot live them. What matters is that you live everything. And you must live the questions. (pp. 45-46)

Letter V

Through such impressions you pull yourself together, recovering from the demanding abundance and all the talking and chattering (and how talkative it is!), and little by little learn to recognize the very few things in which something eternal endures, which you can love, and also something solitary, in which you can quietly take part. (pp. 53-54)

Letter VI

Is there anything that can take from you the hope of being one day in Him, at the farthest, the outermost? (p. 61)

Letter VII

Whoever considers the issue seriously will find that with difficult love, as with death, which is also difficult, no explanation, no solution, no hint nor way forward has been found; and for both these tasks, which we carry covered-up and pass on unopened, no common, agreed-upon rule can be laid down. (p. 68)

Letter VIII

And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad, because the seemingly uneventful and static moment when our future enters into us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous moment when the future happens to us, as if from outside. The more quiet, patient and open we are in our sadness, the deeper and more deliberately the new will enter into us, the better we shall make it ours, the more it will become our fate, and when one day it “happens” (that is, when it goes forth from us and toward others) we shall feel in our innermost being a kinship and a closeness to it. (p. 74)

Letter IX

And your doubting can become a good trait if you train it. It must become aware; it must become criticism. Whenever it tries to spoil something for you, ask it why something is ugly, demand evidence, test it, and perhaps you will find it baffled and embarrassed, perhaps even combative. But do not give in; demand arguments and respond each time in the same way, attentively and consistently, and the day will come when it will change from a destructive force into one of your best workers–perhaps the cleverest of all who work on your life. (pp. 83-84)

Letter X

All that is necessary is that we should be in situations that work upon us and that put us from time to time in front of great natural things. (p. 86)

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