Letters to a Young Poet

rilke sassThis is a book I should’ve read earlier. Yet somehow didn’t.

From college spirituality retreats to Lady Gaga, this guy is everywhere. I mean, look at that sass.

In all reality, however, I have used Rilke’s words about life’s questions since I was first given them at around age 20 – and have been trying to follow his advice:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
…live in the question.”

Just as the seeming simplicity of that excerpt, Rilke’s writings in Letters to a Young Poet, can at times hide the true struggle and complexity of the ideas he conveys so beautifully.

Rilke wrote these letters in response to a young man who attended the military school Rilke had once studied at. Although there is an age difference, Rilke writes his reflections from the ripe old age of 28 – my age now.

His wisdoms feel hard-won, and based on his sickly constitution and near-torturous childhood, that appears to be the case.

“And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must becomeknowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life.”

letters-to-a-young-poetRilke is preoccupied with the pursuit of living itself. Of finding one’s moorings within the practicalities of life, and directing always one’s life beyond them.

He does not encourage this young poet toward writing, but only to write if he ‘must.’

It is the encouragement to find that motivation that is in and of itself satisfying. That sustains the soul beyond any outside attachments.

In this way, the majority of the letters are directed at a type of self-discovery that is inherently spiritual. A spirituality that encourages no buy-in with the world’s attitudes, but only is culminated within the ‘solitude of the self.’ (and a somewhat nebulous God).

After waiting so long to read, Rilke did not disappoint and I came away with a new reading of these near-poetic letters that I don’t think I would have understood ten years ago. The right book finds you at the right time, or at least that’s what I’ve heard.

rilke love


The Art of the Everyday – March 15: Weekly Book Review! Wherein I attempt to reach my goal of 63 books this year:

The Books Around: 2014

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
2. Home by Toni Morrison
3. Grandville by Bryan Talbot
4. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
5. Help Thanks Wow by Anne Lamott
6. Viktor Frankl Recollections by Viktor Frankl
7. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett
9. Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
10. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
11. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
12. On the Mystery by Catherine Keller
13. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz by Michela Wrong
14. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
14. King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild
15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
16. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
17. The Journey Home by Radhanath Swami
18. Quantum by Manjit Kumar
19. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
20. Dispatches by Michael Herr
21. Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard Edited by WH Auden
22. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
23. Wool by Hugh Howey
24. Black Boy by Richard Wright
25. Embracing Defeat by John W. Dower
26. Cane River by Lalita Tademy
27. The Paradise of Bombs by Scott Russell Sanders
28. kira-kira by Cynthia Kadohata
29. Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
30. The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
31. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
32. Trinity by Leon Uris
33. Omaha Blues by Joseph Lelyveld
34. Airships by Barry Hannah
35. Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
36. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser
37. Passionate Nomad by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
38. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
39. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaurder
40. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
42. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
43. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
44. The Brothers K by David James Duncan
45. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
46. Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
48. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
49. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
50. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
51. Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler
52. Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey
53. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch
54. World War Z by Max Brooks
55. Blindness by Jose Saramago
56. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
57. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry
58. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
59. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
60. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
61. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
62. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
63. Dune by Frank Herbert


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