Sunday, August 5, 2012

Letters to a Young Poet

All of us that labor in the arts know that it can be a lonely existence. We often find ourselves living a life of solitary dreams, disconnected from others, and driven by a vision that no one else seems to value or share. On some days, this can become overwhelming. We then thirst for a single voice of understanding that will reach into our solitary lives and reassure us that the path we have chosen is worthy, and that the rewards it offers are worth the loneliness it entails.
These are not my words. They are written by author Kent Nerburn, in his foreword to the 2000 edition of Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. But, these words express a feeling that is known to those of us who have tried to follow a creative path.
"Letters to a Young Poet" is a collection of 10 small letters, written by Rilke to a young man named Franz Kappus, who is seeking guidance and help from the older poet.  We don't have Kappus' letters, but from Rilke's answers, we understand what he wrote about. Should he become a writer, or should he pursue a military career? Are his poems good enough? Does God exists? What about love?
The letters are dated between February 1903 and December 1908, and they offer tremendous wisdom, not only for Mr. Kappus, but for any artist and anyone who is considering becoming one.
It was Franz Kappus who published the letters in 1929. three years after  Rilke's death.
The Norwegian edition: Brev til ein ung diktar

Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask you this: 
Must I write? 
Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. 
And if it should ring its assent, 
if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, "I must", 
then build your life upon it. 
It has become your necessity. 
Rainer Maria Rilke.

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