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Letters to a Young Poet


Letters to a Young Poet Cover





February 17, 1903

Dear Sir,

Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, who life endures beside our own small, transitory life.

With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings or something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, "My Soul." There, something of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem "To Leopardi" a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet anything independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them, managed to make clear to me various fault that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise you or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its root into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And is this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Condetector, January 2, 2012 (view all comments by Condetector)
Approximately 25 years ago I received a card from a dear friend and mentor that included a short quotation about "living the questions" by Rilke. Even though I had no clue about the depth of the meaning,I found it intriguing to the point that it stuck in my head-- occasionally resurfacing.

Finally in 2003 my curiousity drove me to search for the source, causing me to purchase the book. In my solitude those haunting words surfaced with intense meaning to the point I began to quote a large part of page 34 frequently to various loved ones. Fast forward to January 1,2012, time for my annual evaluation;I recovered my priceless book from its place on my shelves. Having just finished reading Stephen Mitchell's introduction--I relate the ending: "And like a poem, it can mirror back to us our condition, changing as we change, clarifying as our vision becomes more clear, until its insights become as familiar and obvious as our own face." It has occurred to me that I have five special persons in my life who I plan to gift with Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young poet, which is packed with useful gems. At age 82,I'm hoping the recipients will be impacted by its value much sooner than I.
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esmereldajones, March 31, 2009 (view all comments by esmereldajones)
An unsurpassed explanation of the virgin conception and the bringing forth of our imaged child from the sacred love of creation. A beloved, inspired being of the Higher Self.
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Product Details

Mitchell, Stephen
Mitchell, Stephen
Mitchell, Stephen
Rilke, Rainer Maria
Rilke, Ranier Maria
New York :
Continental european
European - German
Authors, german
Rilke, rainer maria, 1875-1926
Kappus, franz xaver, 1883-1966
Authors, German -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Authors, German -- 20th century.
Kappus, Franz Xaver - Correspondence
General Literary Criticism & Collections
Literature-A to Z
poetry;letters;writing;non-fiction;literature;essays;german;correspondence;rilke;german literature;epistolary;20th century;rainer maria rilke;philosophy;fiction;poetics;creativity;advice;art;classic;memoir;literary criticism;classics;biography;poets;spiri
Edition Description:
1st Vintage Books ed.
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
January 1987
Grade Level:
6.92x4.18x.36 in. .15 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Children's » Activities » General
Fiction and Poetry » Anthologies » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z

Letters to a Young Poet Used Mass Market
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Product details 128 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780394741048 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The common reader will be delighted by Stephen Mitchell's new translation of that slim and beloved volume by Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet...It seems to be the best yet."
"Review" by , "Rilke's letters...have become classic statements of creative process and spiritual development....They help us to know ourselves."
"Review" by , "Rilke's finely wrought advice about art, personal fulfillment, and love....This book is a very important addition to those who love Rilke."
"Synopsis" by , Letters written over a period of several years on the vocation of writing by a poet whose greatest work was still to come.
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