Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Letters to a Young Poet is officially one of my favourite reads. It is, as the self-explanatory title suggests, an array of letters to an aspiring poet named Mr Kappus. Relatable, wise, contemplative reflections and advices are aplenty. I’ll share the few which resonates with me and list my own thoughts under each, so I can go back to them for easy reference:

  • If your everyday life seems to lack material, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place.
    (This reminds me of what my poetry teacher used to tell us – look around us and examine the little details in our surroundings which we often overlook. We don’t have to experience a spectacle or witness a dramatic scene to be inspired and find material to write. We can instead work on our ability to make poetry out of the littlest, under-appreciated things. All it takes is a little imagination and shift of perspective.)
  • Go into yourself and examine the depths from which your life springs; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you have to write.
    (To find our purpose, is to delve into the core of our soul to seek and realign our intentions. This is so important.)
  • To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them. It is a lesson I learn every day amid hardships I am thankful for: patience is all!
    (How true is this? Patience is all. Something every human being needs to cultivate, through the hardest times in our lives. That’s what makes patience so beautiful. Like the rainbow after a storm, like flowers blooming during spring after the coldest winter… nature herself teaches us what rewards we will get if we’d just wait and be patient. Patience is beautiful!)
  • You are so young, all still lies ahead of you, and I should like to ask you, as best I can, dear Sir, to be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, like books written in foreign tongue. Do not now strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given to you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future.(Sometimes we are so preoccupied with the answers, we focus so rigidly on the destination, that we forget this: the journey is what matters. The process is more important than the conclusion. To embrace the present, and let the future come to you.)
  •  Love your solitude and bear the pain it causes you with melody wrought with lament. For the people who are close to you, you tell me, are far away, and that shows that you are beginning to create a wider space around you. And if what is close is far, then the space around you is wide indeed and already among the stars; take pleasure in your growth, in which no one can accompany you, and be kind-hearted towards those you leave behind, and be assured and gentle with them and do not plague them with your doubts or frighten them your confidence or your joyfulness, which they cannot understand. Look for some kind of simple and loyal way of being together with them which does not necessarily have to alter however much you may change; love in them a form of life different from your own and show understanding for the older ones who fear precisely the solitude in which you trust.
  • There is only one solitude, and it is vast and not easy to bear and almost everyone has moments when they would happily exchange it for some form of company, be it ever so banal or trivial, for the illusion of some slight correspondence with whoever one happens to come across, however unworthy… But perhaps those are precisely the hours when solitude grows, for its growth is painful like the growth of boys and sad like the beginning of spring. But that must not put you off. What is needed is this, and this alone: solitude, great inner loneliness. Going into oneself and not meeting anyone for hours – that is what one must arrive at. Loneliness of the kind one knew as a child, when the grown-ups went back and forth bound up i things which seemed grave and weighty because they looked so busy, and because one had no idea what they were up to.
    (I relate to this whole-heartedly.)
  • People have tended (with the help of conventions) to resolve everything in the direction of easiness, of the light, and on the lightest side of the light; but it is clear that we must hold to the heavy, the difficult. All living things do this, everything in nature grows and defends itself according to its kind and is a distinct creature from out of its own resources, strives to be so at any cost and in the face of all resistance. We know little, but that we must hold fast to what is difficult is a certainty that will never forsake us. It is good to be alone, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult should be one more reason to do it.
    (I wanted to disagree – solitude isn’t difficult, it’s easy. But I realize that perhaps it is easy for me to slip into solitude because it is so familiar to me. I grew up learning to be alone. Many people I know are not familiar with it. So I guess there is truth in what Rilke has mentioned; that difficult things should be done often, so that when it is done often, it becomes easy.)
  • And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and static moment when our future comes upon us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and accidental point when it happens to us as if from the outside. The quieter, the more patient and open we are in our sadness, the deeper and more unerringly the new will penetrate into us, the better we shall acquire it, the more it will be our fate, and when one day in the future it ‘takes place’ (that is, steps out of us towards others), we shall feel related and close to it in our inmost hearts. And that is necessary.
  • Why should you want to exclude from your life all unsettling, all pain, all depression of spirit, when you don’t know what work it is these states are performing within you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where it all comes from and where it is leading? You well know you are in a period of transition and want nothing more than to be transformed.
    (Yes, pain is necessary for growth to happen.)
  • And if I have anything else to say to you it is this: do not think that the person who is trying to console you lives effortlessly among the simple, quiet words that sometimes make you feel better. His life is full of troubles and sadness and falls far short of them. But if it were any different, he could never have found the words that he did.
    (Too true. If sadness didn’t exist, I doubt there’ll be that many books written.)
  • It all comes down to what I have said before: the same desire that you might find enough patience in you to endure, and simplicity enough to have faith; that you might gain more and more trust in what is hard and in your own loneliness among other people. And otherwise let life take its course. Believe me: life is right, whatever happens.
    (This is simply beautiful advice. Have patience, have faith, have trust, let go.)
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