I had posted Rilke’s eighth letter some time ago (see previous post Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: The Eighth Letter), but hadn’t delved further into this correspondence. Recently I decided to read all the letters and now I must share them with you. I found them lovingly presented on the site: http://www.carrothers.com/rilke_main.htm. Here is what Eddie Carrothers has to say about the letters:
“Letters To A Young Poet are ten letters written to a young man about to enter the German military. His name was Franz Kappus, he was 19 years old, and he wrote Rilke looking for guidance and a critique of some of his poems. Rilke was himself only 27 when the first letter was written. The resulting five year correspondence is a virtual owner’s manual on what it is (and what is required) to be an artist and a person.
This book has been my favorite book for ten years or more. I’ve bought and then given away so many copies of it, I almost never have one for myself. So I digitized it for all those times when I’m without my own copy. The translation is by Stephen Mitchell and is, by far, the best of all the ones I’ve read. It is available on Vintage Press in paperback and is about $9. You can even order it on-line from amazon.com. I highly recommend getting one. It’s a book you’ll read countless times and each time will seem like the first time.”
October 29, 1903
I received your letter of August 29 in Florence, and it has taken me this long two months to answer. Please forgive this tardiness, but I don’t like to write letters while I am traveling because for letter-writing I need more than the most necessary tools: some silence and solitude and a not too unfamiliar hour.
We arrived in Rome about six weeks ago, at a time when it was still the empty, the hot, the notoriously feverish Rome, and this circumstance, along with other practical difficulties in finding a place to live, helped make the restlessness around us seem as if it would never end, and the unfamiliarity lay upon us with the weight of homelessness. In addition, Rome (if one has not yet become acquainted with it) makes one feel stifled with sadness for the first few days: through the gloomy and lifeless museum atmosphere that it exhales, through the abundance of its pasts, which are brought forth and laboriously held up (pasts on which a tiny present subsists), through the terrible overvaluing, sustained by scholars and philologists and imitated by the ordinary tourist in Italy, of all these disfigured and decaying Things, which, after all, are essentially nothing more than accidental remains from another time and from a life that is not and should not be ours.
Finally, after weeks of daily resistance, one finds oneself somewhat composed again, even though still a bit confused, and one says to oneself: No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; but there is much beauty here, because every where there is much beauty. Waters infinitely full of life move along the ancient aqueducts into the great city and dance in the many city squares over white basins of stone and spread out in large, spacious pools and murmur by day and lift up their murmuring to the night, which is vast here and starry and soft with winds. And there are gardens here, unforgettable boulevards, and stair cases designed by Michelangelo, staircases constructed on the pattern of downward-gliding waters and, as they descend, widely giving birth to step out of step as if it were wave out of wave. Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in.
I am still living in the city, on the Capitol, not far from the most beautiful equestrian statue that has come down to us from Roman art – the statue of Marcus Aurelius; but in a few weeks I will move into a quiet, simple room, an old summerhouse, which lies lost deep in a large park, hidden from the city, from its noises and incidents. There I will live all winter and enjoy the great silence, from which I expect the gift of happy, work-filled hours….
From there, where I will be more at home, I will write you a longer letter, in which I will say something more about what you wrote me. Today I just need to tell you (and perhaps I am wrong not to have done this sooner) that the book you sent me (you said in your letter that it contained some works of yours) hasn’t arrived. Was it sent back to you, perhaps from Worpswede? (They will not forward packages to foreign countries.) This is the most hopeful possibility, and I would be glad to have it confirmed. I do hope that the package hasn’t been lost – unfortunately, the Italian mail service being what it is, that would not be anything unusual.
I would have been glad to have this book (as I am to have anything that comes from you); and any poems that have arisen in the meantime I will always (if you entrust them to me) read and read again and experience as well and as sincerely as I can. With greetings and good wishes,
Rainer Maria Rilke