I’ve done a lot of packing and cleaning in the past few weeks as I moved my office and then reorganized my house. While I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the move, I forgot one of the best parts of moving: treasures. In every drawer, under each shelf I found forgotten objects, some of which had been lost years ago. Among all the dust bunnies behind my desk I found the best one: Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. I have owned several copies of this book but this pocket-sized edition, a Stephen Mitchell translation, is my favorite.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a series of letters to (surprise!) a young poet named Franz Kappus. (It might have been called “Younger Poet,” as Kappus was only about 8 years his junior.) The two corresponded over 6 years of time, touching on a wide range of topics. After Rilke’s death, Kappus compiled and published the letters, sharing the treasure of Rilke’s thoughts on art, relationships, and solitude.
“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.” Letter One, February 17, 1903
“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. 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.” Letter Four, July 16, 1903
“And this more human love…will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.” Letter Seven, May 14, 1904
Do you have a favorite book that you treasure? Do you rediscover it over and over again? Please share your thoughts!