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.”
Furuborg, Jonsered, in Sweden
November 4, 1904
My Dear Mr. Kappus,
During this time that has passed without a letter, I have been partly traveling, partly so busy that I couldn’t write. And even today writing is difficult for me, because I have already had to write so many letters that my hand is tired. If I could dictate, I would have much more to say to you, but as it is, please accept these few words as an answer to your long letter.
I think of you often, dear Mr. Kappus, and with such concentrated good wishes that somehow they ought to help you. Whether my letters really are a help, I often doubt. Don’t say, “Yes, they are.” Just accept them calmly and without many thanks, and let us wait for what wants to come.
There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other things that oppress you-: is just what I have already said: just the wish 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 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.
Rainer Maria Rilke