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Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, Chapter Four

Worpswede, near Bremen, July 16th, 1903

SOME TEN days ago I left Paris, quite ill and tired, and journeyed into a great northerly plain whose breadth and stillness and sky are to make me well again.

But I came into a long spell of rain that today for the first time shows signs of clearing a little over the restlessly wind-blown land; and I am using this first moment of brightness to greet you, dear sir.

Very dear Mr. Kappus:

I have left a letter from you long unanswered, not that I had forgotten it — on the contrary: it was of the sort that one reads again,when one finds them among one’s correspondence, and I recognized you in it as though you bad been close at hand. It was the letter of May 2nd, and you surely remember it.

When I read it, as now, in the great quiet of these distances, I am touched by your beautiful concern about life, more even than I had felt it in Paris, where everything resounds and dies away differently because of the too great noise that makes things vibrate.

Here, where an immense country lies about me, over which the winds pass coming from the seas, here I feel that no human being anywhere can answer for you those questions and feelings that deep within them have a life of their own; for even the best err in words when they are meant to mean most delicate and almost in- expressible things.

But I believe nevertheless that you will not have to remain without a solution if you will hold to objects that are similar to those from which my eyes now draw refreshment If you will cling to Nature, to the simple in Nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and that can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you, not in your intellect, perhaps, which lags marveling behind, but in your inmost consciousness, waking and cognizance.

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can. dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.

Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and Pure way of living; train yourself to it–but take whatever comes with great trust and if only it comes out of your own will, out of same need of your inmost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing. Sex is difficult; yes.

But they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything serious is difficult and everything is serious.

If you only recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own nature and ways, out of your own experience and childhood and strength to achieve a relation to sex wholly your own (not influenced by convention and custom), then you need no longer be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your best possession.

Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing.

And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments.

Men have made even eating into something else: want on the one hand, superfluity upon the other, have dimmed the distinctness of this need, and all the deep, simple necessities in which life renews itself have become similarly dulled.

But the individual can clarify them for himself and live them clearly (and if not the individual, who is too dependent, then at least the solitary man).

He can remember that a beauty in animals and plants is a quiet enduring form of love and longing, and he can see animals, as he sees plants, patiently and willingly uniting and increasing and growing, not out of physical delight, not out of physical suffering, but bowing to necessities that are greater than Pleasure and pain and more powerful than win and withstanding.

O that man might take this secret, of which the world is full even to its littlest things, more humbly to himself and bear it, endure it,more seriously and feel how terribly difficult it is instead of taking it lightly.

That he might be more reverent toward his fruitfulness, which is but one, whether it seems mental or physical; for intellectual creation too springs from the physical, is of one nature with it and only like a gentler, more ecstatic and more everlasting repetition of physical delight.

“The thought of being creator, of procreating & of making” is nothing without its continuous great confirmation and realization in the world, nothing without the thousandfold concordance from things and animals–and enjoyment of it is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is fun of inherited memories of the begetting and the bearing of millions.

In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation

And those who come together in the night and are entwined in rocking delight do an earnest work and gather sweetnesses, gather depth and strength for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to speak of ecstasies beyond telling.

And they call up the future; and though they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new human being rises up, and on the ground of that chance which here seems consummated, awakes the law by which a resistant vigorous seed forces its way through to the egg-cell that moves open toward it.

Do not be bewildered by the surfaces; in the depths all becomes law.

And those who live the secret wrong and badly (and they are very many), lose it only for themselves and still hand it on, like a sealed letter, without knowing it.

And do not be confused by the multiplicity of names and the complexity of cases. Perhaps over all there is a great motherhood, as common longing.

The beauty of the virgin, a being that (as you so beautifully say) “has not yet achieved anything,” is motherhood that begins to sense itself and to prepare, anxious and yearning. And the mother’s beauty is ministering motherhood, and in the old woman there is a great remembering.

And even in the man there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and spiritual; his procreating is also a kind of giving birth, and giving birth it is when he creates out of inmost fullness.

And perhaps the sexes are more related than we think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and win come together as human beings, in order simply, seriously and patiently to bear in common the difficult sex that has been laid upon them.

But everything that may someday be possible to many the solitary man can now prepare and build with his hands, that err less.

Therefore, dear sir, love your solitude and bear with sweet-sounding lamentation the suffering it causes you

For those who are near you are far, you say, and that shows it is beginning to grow wide about you. And when what is near you is far, then your distance is already among the stars and very large; rejoice in your growth, in which you naturally can take no one with you, and be kind to those who remain behind, and be sure and calm before them and do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with Your confidence or joy, which they could not understand.

Seek yourself some sort of simple and loyal community with them, which need not necessarily change as you yourself become different and again different; love in them life in an unfamiliar form and be considerate of aging people, who fear that being-alone in which you trust.

Avoid contributing material to the drama that is always stretched taut between parents and children; it uses up much of the children’s energy and consumes the love of their elders, which is effective and warming even if it does not comprehend.

Ask no advice from them and count upon no understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance and trust that in this lore there is a strength and a blessing, out beyond which you do not have to step in order to go very far!

It is good that you are presently entering a profession that will make you independent and set you entirely on your own in every sense.

Wait patiently to find out whether your inner life feels cramped by the form of this profession

I consider it very difficult and very exacting, as it is burdened with great conventions and scarcely leaves room for a Personal conception of its problems.

But Your solitude will be a hold and home for you even amid very unfamiliar conditions and from there you will find all your ways.

All my wishes are ready to accompany you, and my confidence is with you.


Ranier Maria Rilke ~Letters to a young poet.







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