Timeless Rilke

No matter how often I read Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” they always reverberate:

“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this…..I beg you to stop that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should avoid right now. No one can advise or help you–no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would die if you were forbidden to write. then most of all: ask yourself in the silent hour of the night: must I write? and if this answer rings out an assent, if you meet this simply question with a strong, simple, “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.”

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Thomas Davis
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 16:24:25

    Not only is Rilke a magnificent poet, but “Letters to a Young Poet” is one of the poet’s greatest works. Thanks for this.


  2. kvennarad
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 17:01:54

    I’ll have to take issue with Rilke on this. It’s a recipe for self-indulgence and self-absorption, and there are thousands of unreadable poems ‘out there’ to prove it. All this ‘must’ from Rilke reminds me of the rhyme which goes…

    “She writes because she must,
    Our gifted daughter Ann.”
    That’s nice. We’ll not pretend she just
    Writes because she can.

    … heaven knows who penned that. There is nothing wrong with asking whether one’s verses are good. That’s what we do every time we send them to a magazine or post them on wordpress, if we are honest. If we want to bear the replies we must be thick-skinned, because there is no guarantee that those whom we ask are going to ‘get it’. When they do, we get a rosy glow, and I defy any honest poet to deny it.

    Of course none of the above is any excuse not to write, not to dig deep, not to give out what we are given. A poet should write every word that she or he has to (‘yes, I know ‘has to’ is another way of saying ‘must’), not one word more and not one word less. Dedication to the impulse that makes us write should never blind us to the fact that what we make our art in a medium of communication; equally the fact that we make our art in a medium of communication should never blind us to the impulse.

    Marie Marshall


  3. Evelyn N. Alfred
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 17:06:21

    I haven’t finished reading *Letters* but I remember this quote. So is he saying that as long as you like your own writing, then that should be enough?


    • kathydiane
      Nov 24, 2011 @ 17:24:15

      I think he’s saying don’t let your sole judgement of your writings’ worth weigh on validation from ‘outside.’ Writing in all forms is extremely subjective and you will get many varying opinions on your piece once it’s finished, published or no. It certainly helps if you know you need to keep writing no matter what and, because of that, don’t stop, and grow in confidence, assurance, and trust in your own voice…then you can ‘take what you like, and leave the rest’ when it comes to critique without throwing too much weight on one opinion.


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