Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet are ten letters exchanged over the course of five years. It begins with one young author to another, looking for advice on whether their writing is any good, and continues on with talking about life, love, and human nature. Rilke does like to ramble a bit about religion, too, but that’s neither here nor there in adding or detracting from the letters, I think.
It’s not just about poetry/writing/art, but self identity and the unknowable future. I read it in the earliest hours of Christmas Day, when I couldn’t sleep because of stress. There’s a transcendental-like quality to the words.
Here are the quotes I found I connected to the most (from Stephen Mitchell’s 1984 translation):
“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, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”
“A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”
“…keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”
“…we are unspeakably alone; and many things must happen, many things must go right, a whole constellation of events must be fulfilled, for one human being to successfully advise or help another.”
“Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them.– Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights. Allow your judgements their own silent, undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be forced or hastened.”
“Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.”
“But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”
“…if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not abandon you”
“The future stands still…but we move in infinite space.”
“In you…so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.”
“…[your life] is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.”
I absolutely recommend this, whether you’re a writer or not. Despite me not quite being able to convey everything about it.
But if this sounds like your kind of thing, check it out.