Rainer Maria Rilke- Letters to A Young Poet (1929)

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So once again it’s been a while. But I’m back and ready to discuss Rilke.

For those of you who don’t know, “Letters to a Young Poet” is a collection of 10 letters that Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kuppas, a young cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. These letters are in a sense the advice Rilke gives this young man as Kuppas goes through his time at Military school and tries to make sense of the things around him, all the while trying to improve his writing skills as a poet. Letters to a Young Poet

What’s so special about these letters is their deep personal connection that derives from them, and the strong words that help this young man, and every reader, to come to terms with their own life, our mortality, our fears and understanding of love.

Rilke writes:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rilke speaks to Kuppas in a way that does not put him down for feeling certain things but instead builds him up for having these exact feelings. Reading these letters gave me a sense of understanding about things that I didn’t even realize I was questioning. He speaks to the idea that although we may not have a complete understanding of certain things that happen in our lives, this “not knowing” is what helps us to grow. It helps to bring us closer to ourselves.

Rilke writes:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend

Coming to terms with our own selves is a hard thing to accomplish. But Rilke speaks to this feat in a way that makes it seem slightly less daunting. He shows us that although we are connected to each and every person, in one way or another, we can never truly know a person without knowing ourselves first. We all have doubts and uncertainties just as much as we have faith or joy. But as Rilke says we cannot always assume others understand this about our nature. They have their own nature to contend with and we mustn’t burden them with our own.

Rilke writes:

only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being

He speaks about relationships and love in a way that made me rethink the way I look at the world. If we want love, we must be ready to extend our hand out to it. We must be ready to take it all in; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Once we are able to do so, this relationship with another person becomes, in and of itself, a whole new being. One that will help us to know ourselves, just as we learn to know each other.

I see these letters as a great and vast way of thinking about life. Although Rilke is speaking to one man in particular and in response to the woes that this young man goes through, his writing and response speaks to everyone and all things. I see this a guide to finding oneself. The self that is hidden underneath the fear and the unknowing. The self that is just waiting to be set free.

Verdict: 12/12


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