Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And now, a word or two from Rilke

Some books can and should be read many times. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke is one such book. Have you read it? Recently? I'm reading it, again, for the creative writing capstone class tomorrow, and I'm struck, as always, by how deeply wise this book is. It's hard to choose just one passage to quote, so here are two, from the translation by Stephen Mitchell.

First, a (beautifully) humbling passage about teaching and mentoring and general advice-giving, which is what Rilke was being called on to do in response to Franz Xaver Kappus, the military student who wrote to him in 1903:

"Of course, you must know that every letter of yours will always give me pleasure, and you must be indulgent with the answer, which will perhaps leave you empty-handed; for ultimately, and precisely in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone; and many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for human being to successfully advise or help another" (14).

And then, an equally beautiful and perhaps more uplifting passage about learning:

"... have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and 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" (34).

Rilke certainly doesn't need my commentary, nor do you, so I'll stop here.

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