Letters To A Young Poet by Rainier Maria Rilke

by Catherine Chiu

[translated by Stephen Mitchell]

  • This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?
  • A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.
  • Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it.
  • Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside.
  • […] bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole 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.
  • For ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone.
  • Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.
  • Allow your judgments their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened.
  • Everything is gestation and birthing.
  • Patience is everything.
  • And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
  • Bodily delight is a sensory experience, not any different from pure looking or pure feeling with which a beautiful fruit fills the tongue; it is a great, an infinite learning that is given to us, a knowledge of the world, the fullness and the splendor of all knowledge. And it is not our acceptance of it that is bad; what is bad is that most people misuse this learning and squander it and apply it as a stimulant on the tired places of their lives and as a distraction rather than as a way of gathering themselves for their highest moments.
  • Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.
  • But believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.
  • If there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not abandon you; and the winds that move through the trees and across many lands; everything in the world of Things and animals is still filled with happening, which you can take part in.

  • […] in itself, starting is always so beautiful
  • As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build Him.
  • But it is clear that we must trust in what 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.
  • 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.
  • Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad.
  • And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are on our sadness, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.
  • And they will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us.
  • But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.
  • We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.
  • You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.
  • […] that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.
  • And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism.
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