Swans Commentary » swans.com April 11, 2005  



Letters to a Young Poet
(Letter Nine)


by Rainer Maria Rilke


Book Excerpt




Furuborg, Jonsered, Sweden
November 4, 1904

My dear Mr. Kappus,

During this time that has passed without a letter, I have been partly traveling, partly so busy that I couldn't write. And even today writing is difficult for me, because I have already had to write so many letters that my hand is tired. If I could dictate, I would have much more to say to you, but as it is, please accept these few words as an answer to your long letter.

I think of you often, dear Mr. Kappus, and with such concentrated good wishes that somehow they ought to help you. Whether my letters really are a help, I often doubt. Don't say, "Yes, they are." Just accept them calmly and without many thanks, and let us wait for what wants to come.

There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other thing that oppress you - : is just what I have already said: just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.

And about feelings: All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom. Do you understand what I mean?

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, 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.

That is all, dear Mr. Kappus, that I am able to tell you today. But I am sending you, along with this letter, the reprint of a small poem* that has just appeared in the Prague German Labor. In it I speak to you further of life and death and of how both are great and glorious.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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Letters to a Young Poet: Letter One || Letter Two || Letter Three || Letter Four || Letter Five || Letter Six || Letter Seven || Letter Eight


Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke - Translated by Stephen Mitchell; Random House; ISBN: 0394741048; 1987

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About the Author

Rainer Maria Rilke, (1875-1926), was one of the greatest poets of modern Germany. He wrote these 10 letters in 1903 to Franz Xaver Kappus who had them published after Rilke's untimely death. To learn more about Rilke, please read this short bio.



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Published April 11, 2005