Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rainier Maria Rilke 4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926



Letters to a young poet

Between Franz Xaver Kappus - June 1929 & Rainer Maria Rilke - February 17, 1903


When I read this article or letters between the two poets it really amazed me what poetry entails, how we start to call ourselves poets and why we are poetess. What makes us poets? These letters are about life, feelings, anything that surrounds us, nature.

So this is my theme for the article. Letters to a poet. If it’s possible most of our loved poets are dead ones but what about them inspired us to become poets or poetess'.

The following are just snippets of the letters between the two poets, and I just chose the parts that stood out to me.

After all this it is not hard to understand how I was determined in that very hour to send my poetic attempts to Rainer Maria Rilke and to ask him for his opinion. Not yet twenty, and close on the threshold of a profession which I felt to be entirely contrary to my inclinations, I hoped to find understanding, if in any one, in the poet who had written Mir zur Feier. And without having intended to do so at all, I found myself writing a covering letter in which I unreservedly laid bare my heart as never before and never since to any second human being.

Many weeks passed before a reply came. The blue-sealed letter bore the postmark of Paris, weighed heavy in the hand, and showed on the envelope the same beautiful, clear, sure characters in which the text was set down from the first line to the last. With it began my regular correspondence with Rainer Maria Rilke, which lasted until 1908 and then gradually petered out because life drove me off into those very regions from which the poet’s warm, tender and touching concern had sought to keep me.
But that is not important. Only the ten letters are important that follow here, important for an understanding of the world in which Rainer Maria Rilke lived and worked, and important too for many growing and evolving spirits of today and tomorrow. And where a great and unique man speaks, small men should keep silence.
FRANZ XAVER KAPPUS
Berlin, June 1929

The replies from Rainer Maria Rilke

Letter 1

Dear Sir,
Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. 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 unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings of something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, “My Soul.” There, something of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem “To Leopardi” a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet anything independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them, managed to make clear to me various faults that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. 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 while 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. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. 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. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds - wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to rise 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. - And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, and a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it. So, dear 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 whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take the destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.
But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self-searching that I as of you will not have been for nothing. Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.
What else can I tell you? It seems to me that everything has its proper emphasis; and finally I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your while development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.
It was a pleasure for me to find in your letter the name of Professor Horacek; I have great reverence for that kind, learned man, and a gratitude that has lasted through the years. Will you please tell him how I feel; it is very good of him to still think of me, and I appreciate it.
The poems that you entrusted me with I am sending back to you. And I thank you once more for your questions and sincere trust, of which, by answering as honestly as I can, I have tried to make myself a little worthier than I, as a stranger, really am.
Yours very truly,
Rainer Maria Rilke
Letter 2

Today I would like to tell you just two more things:
Irony: Don’t let yourself be controlled by it, especially during uncreative moments. When you are fully creative, try to use it, as one more way to take hold of life. Used purely, it too is pure, and one needn’t be ashamed of it; but if you feel yourself becoming too familiar with it, if you are afraid of this growing familiarity, then turn to great and serious objects, in front of which it becomes small and helpless. Search into the depths of Things: there, irony never descends - and when you arrive at the edge of greatness, find out whether this way of perceiving the world arises from a necessity of your being. For under the influence of serious Things it will either fall away from you (if it is something accidental), or else (if it is really innate and belongs to you) it will grow strong, and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments, which you can form, your art with.
And the second thing I want to tell you today is this:
Of all my books, I find only a few indispensable, and two of them are always with me, wherever I am. They are here, by my side: the Bible, and the books of the great Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen. Do you know his works? It is easy to find them, since some have been published in Reclam’s Universal Library, in a very good translation. Get the little volume of Six Stories by J. P. Jacobsen and his novel Niels Lyhne, and begin with the first story in the former, which is called “Mogens.” A whole world will envelop you, the happiness, the abundance, and the inconceivable vastness of a world. Live for a while in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them. This love will be returned to you thousands upon thousands of times, whatever your life may become—it will, I am sure go through the while fabric of your becoming, as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys.
If I were to say who has given me the greatest experience of the essence of creativity, its depths and eternity, there are just two names I would mention: Jacobsen, that great, great poet, and Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, who is without peer among all artists who are alive today.
And all success upon your path!
Yours,
Rainer Marie Rilke

Letter 3

You see: I have copied out your sonnet, * because I found that it is lovely and simple born in the shape that it moves in with such quiet decorum. It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read. And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.
It was a pleasure for me to read this sonnet and your letter, often; I thank you for both.
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And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time ahead and far on into life, is - ; solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent - ?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (”to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.
But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment . . . . : And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are live-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of very sort, for since it preferred to take love-life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.
Letter 4


And about feelings: All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good; if it is in your entire blood, if it isn’t intoxication or muddiness, but joy, which you can see into, clear to the bottom. Do you understand what I mean?
And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers - perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.
That is all, dear Mr. Kappus, that I am able to tell you today. But I am sending you, along with this letter, the reprint of a small poem * that has just appeared in the Prague German Labor. In it I speak to you further of life and death and of how both are great and glorious.
Letter 5


It must be immense, this silence, in which sounds and movements have room, and if one thinks that along with all this the presence of the distant sea also resounds, perhaps as the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act as an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.
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Yes: I am glad you have that firm, sayable existence with you, that title, that uniform, that service, all that tangible and limited world, which in such surroundings, with such an isolated and not numerous body of men, takes on seriousness and necessity, and implies a vigilant application, above and beyond the frivolity and mere time passing of the military profession, and not only permits a self-reliant attentiveness but actually cultivates it. And to be in circumstances that are working upon us, that from time to time place us in front of great natural Things - that is all we need.
Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art - as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature. I am glad, in a word, that you have overcome the danger of landing in one of those professions, and are solitary and courageous, somewhere in a rugged reality. May the coming year support and strengthen you in that.
Always
Yours,
R. M. Rilke

That was the last letter To Mr Kappus the young poet who correspondent with Mr Rainier Maria Rilke for six years.

Bio on Raineir Maria Rilke :- information from Wikipedia

Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) was a Bohemian–Austrian poet and art critic. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language. His haunting images focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety: themes that tend to position him as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets.
He wrote in both verse and a highly lyrical prose. Among English-language readers, his best-known work is the Duino Elegies; his two most famous prose works are the Letters to a Young Poet and the semi-autobiographical The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He also wrote more than 400 poems in French, dedicated to his homeland of choice, the canton of Valais in Switzerland.

The book Rainer wrote was called Letters to a young poet, himself and Kappus collaborated on the content of the book. Above is a review on the book.


An Insight On Life
Written: Jan 02 '04
Pros: Words of WisdomCons: Wish he had written more letters.The Bottom Line: This is a poet speaking to a poet; writers in general should love this book, also look for advice on life here.


Alena's Full Review: Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Xaver Kappus - Letter...
This book was one of the unexpected gems that life causally throws you every once in while. A friend of mine lent me this book and I am so glad she did. It is an insightful little book on being a writer that could probably be applied to any art or perhaps to life itself. The premise of this little "novel" if you will is a collection of ten letters written by the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (German Poet), to a young man who originally writes to Rilke to ask him to look at some poetry he has written. They strike up a correspondence, which turns into the ten letters in the book. We never see the young man's letters. Rilke's letters are gems of knowledge about life, solitude and love. He also speaks on what it is truly to be a writer.” Can you avow that you would die if forbidden to write?" They can be disheartening at times, but seem to me to be full of wisdom. They also seem to say yes, someone else has walked your lonely road. In a way, they speak to me, comfort me and teach me. A couple of my favorite quotes include: "To love is also good, for love is difficult. For one human being to love another is perhaps the most difficult task of all, the epitome, the ultimate test.". . . "We are unutterably alone, essentially, especially in things most intimate and most important to us." The wisdom of a solitary poet. I enjoyed these letters and the pearls of wisdom within so much that I bought a hardback for myself and bought a paperback to give to another friend. The book is translated by Joan M. Burnham, since Rilke was a German poet, and there is a forward by Marc Allen. If you are looking for some words of life, look here, or if you are looking for a bit of comfort from a solitary life, the kind that comes from knowing others have walked here. Then delve into this book, it might just be the haven you are looking for, and besides it does give you some insight into the life of Rilke.

If you know a teen writer or a young adult writer who is seeking guidance, Letters to a Young Poet makes for the perfect gift. Rilke is better known for these ten short letters, especially outside of Germany, than he is for much of his triumphant poetry. Writers often praise Letters to a Young Poet as special insight into Rilke’s writing process and his gentle genius.

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