Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke passed away in 1926. The letters were considered part of his creative genius and he ranks among one of the very best poets out there. He offers very sound advice and displays modesty in the letters. He wrote to a young lieutenant in the Austrian army. Rilke wrote about maidenhood, solitude, death etc. The poem ‘Cornet’ is one of his most renowned works. Kappus wrote to him in 1903. Some of his poems are about God.

I was reading the ‘Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke’ in late 1902 in the Military Academy. Rilke was a quiet and solemn pupil. Later, he went to Prague to be home schooled as he wasn’t used to military life. It was then that I decided to write to him. After this, we corresponded very frequently for about 6 years. There are a total for 10 years. Rilke was indeed a great man.

Rilke commented on my poetry and said they had hidden tendencies to something personal. He didn’t want me to seek feedback from critics. Go near to nature. Say what you see and experience and avoid familiar forms. He wanted to use the things that surround me. Turn to your childhood. It must come from your own voice, from your heart. If you are not called to a poet, your life can be rich in other ways. There is no loss.

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. – Rainer Maria Rilke

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. – Rainer Maria Rilke

If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Try to raise that submerged sensations of that distant past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will extend itself and will become a twilit dwelling which the noise of others passes by in the distance. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take your fate upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking for that reward which might come from without. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I was feeling under the weather recently. Seek the depth of things. Use irony to seize life when you are productive. The Bible and the books by Jens Peter Jacobsen mean a lot to me. Read and learn from them. Your love will be repaid if you love these books. Other than Jacobsen, do also read the works by Auguste Rodin.

I also recommend the book ‘Niels Lyhne’. They will overwhelm time and again, no matter how many times you read it. Let your feelings grow and cover yourself whole. Have deep patience and understand the meaning and power of creation. It is not about the length of time before you create something. Only the patient get rewarded. I will decide to give you some of my books. However, I will also provide a list of books for you to purchase at your own leisure.

Works of art are of an infinite solitariness, and nothing is less likely to bring us near to them than criticism. Only love can apprehend and hold them, and can be just towards them. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Let your judgments have their own quiet, undisturbed development, which must, like all progress, come from deep within, and cannot in any way be pressed or hurried. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Have love for insignificant things. Have patience for everything that is unresolved. Live the questions now. Appreciate the simple beauties in life. Ideally, this world should be a pleasant place where men and women work together in unity. Love your solitude. Trust your love and have confidence. Let your solitude guide you.

Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant live right into the answer. – Rainer Maria Rilke

But it is the difficult that is enjoined upon us, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If you only recognize that and contrive, yourself, out of your own disposition and nature, out of your experience and childhood and strength to achieve an entirely individual relationship to sex, then you need no longer fear to lose yourself and become unworthy of your best possession. – Rainer Maria Rilke

It is good that you are entering first of all upon a profession which makes you independent and places you on your own in every sense. Wait patiently to see whether your innermost life feels constrained by the form of this profession. – Rainer Maria Rilke

There is beauty everywhere.

Eternally living waters move along the old aqueducts into the great town and dance in the numerous squares over white stone bowls and display themselves in broad capricious basins and murmur by day and increase their murmuring in the night, which here is great and starry and soft with winds. – Rainer Maria Rilke

When solitude grows, it is painful. You will want to long for companionship. Do not use too much time explaining your attitude to others. If you are lonely, try to be near things. What you are experiencing now is now unique to your profession as a military officer. Have you lost God or have you not even possessed him yet? Take the sweetest of everything and build Him. You can experience Him in solitude. Be patient and do not resent. Be glad and comforted that things will be fine.

What is needed is, in the end, simply this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going into yourself and meeting no one for hours on end – that is what you must be able to attain. – Rainer Maria Rilke

…Why not proceed like a child to look upon them as something alien, from out of depth of your own world, out of the spaciousness of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and profession? – Rainer Maria Rilke

I will give you the original version of my sonnet which you copied. To love is also difficult. You have to learn how to love. This comes with experience. Do not let your peers dictate your life. Public pleasures are safe, but you need to avoid them and not be like anyone else. Love is not all romance and play. It is hard work. Treat it as an apprenticeship and learn to be better at it. We have to invent our own rules. There are no rules to follow. Learn to be yourself and dress the way you want to. Do not hide behind a mask and do things to impress others. Once uncovered, it might not do you much good. Rely on your inner work and recall the first time you were loved.

We know little, but that we must hold to the difficult is a certainty that will not leave us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; the fact that a thing is difficult must be one more reason for our doing it. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Loving in the first instance is a sublime occasion for the individual to mature, to grow into something in himself, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and summons him to a distant goal. – Rainer Maria Rilke

Many young people, to be sure, who love falsely, that is simply surrendering, letting solitude go, feel the oppression of failure and want to make the situation in which they find themselves full of vitality and fruitful in their own personal fashion. – Rainer Maria Rilke

How should those who have already confounded themselves and are no longer bounded or separate, who therefore no longer possess anything individual, be able to find a way out of themselves, out of the depth of their already shattered solitude? – Rainer Maria Rilke

Have you changed even those you are no longer sorrowful? Is your character still the same? Have confidence in your sorrows and place emphasis on them. They will make you grow as a person. Sorrows are moments of tension. Be heedful when you are sad and contemplate how it might affect your character. Be more patient and open. When the new things enters you, you will embrace it and keep it close. We are all born solitary. Allow yourself to go on interesting adventures. Strive to live a full existence. Let things happen to you, but do not be too quick to conclude. All your sorrows make you a better person and you can learn from them. Experience the full range of humanity.

We must accept our existence as far as ever it is possible; everything, even the unheard of, must be possible there. That is fundamentally the only courage which is demanded of us: to be brave in the face of the strangest, most singular and most inexplicable things that can befall us. – Rainer Maria Rilke

But fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the existence of the solitary man, it has also circumscribed the relationships between human beings, as it were lifted them up from the river bed of infinite possibilities to a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. – Rainer Maria Rilke

You must think that something is happening upon 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 exclude any disturbances, any pain, any melancholy from your life? – Rainer Maria Rilke

Do not think that the man who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words which sometimes do you good. His life has much hardship and sadness and lags far behind you. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I doubt my letters can be of much help to you. Life is right at any point of time. Become aware. There is a splendor to both life and death.

Always the wish that you might be able to find patience enough in yourself to endure, and single-heartedness enough to believe; that you might win increasing trust in what is difficult, and in your solitude among other people. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, at all events. – Rainer Maria Rilke

All feelings are pure which gather you and lift you up; a feeling is impure which takes hold of only one side of your being and so distorts you. Everything that you could think in the light of your childhood is good. Everything which makes more of you than you have previously been in your best hours, is right. – Rainer Maria Rilke

I have indeed thought of you many times. I am glad to see your progress in life and can you live with an expressible existence now. Learn to appreciate art and understand that art is the only form of non-pretentious living.



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