Book Review: Letters to a Young Poet

I’ve read this book every year or two for the last 16 or 17 years. It’s that good.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is a classic beloved by poets and artists for the last century. It’s Rilke’s half of a correspondence with Franz Kappus between 1903 and 1908. It contains treasures of wisdom for solitary, creative people.

I pulled it off the shelf recently to cite it for a paper and as it has been sitting here by my computer ever since decided it would make for a nice, short book review. I haven’t been writing them with the regularity I started with as school has been hogging up much of my writing-about-what-I-read energy this last month.

It’s startling to reread this now that I am older than he was writing it and to look back at what a profound impact it had on my young poet-self. Primary themes include God, solitude, childhood, nature, and sexuality. It was Rilke who first gave me the idea I could read the Bible as poetry. He lists is as one of two books which is always by his side. This concept has changed both my life and my writing, without question.

Letters is a fairly short read, my copy runs just over 100 pages, but dense and pack with insight and aching solitude and glimpses of God. They show bits of the inner workings of his creative process and his developing relationships with God, himself, and his young friend.

He takes the time to offer profound and heartfelt advice in these letters, not selfishly hoarding his gifts but giving them away freely and with simple affection and honest self appraisal.

Having long been a solitary creature myself I was, at first, captivated by his depiction of this as not abnormal but as even necessary for the messy work of making any sort of art but in particular of painting with words. For, “in the deepest and most important matters, we are unspeakably alone.”

It is a book well worth reading. And rereading.

“A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity.”

About m

My ego wants to think I'm a writer but my heart knows I'm just another one of God's Kids who sometimes has words to say. 2 human kids and 3 feline kids call me Mom. Or Mooooooom. Or mewom, depending which you ask. I'm kinda-sorta busy being a student again; this time I signed myself up for a bizarre torture known as Graduate School. Theoretically in 4ish years I'll have earned some more nice letters to put with my name. Let's face it, I'm addicted to learning and probably need rehab to restore me to sanity and remove the obsession to read books. I don't remember what free time is but I think I like to spend it sleeping or playing in the mud on a river bank.
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1 Response to Book Review: Letters to a Young Poet

  1. Pingback: Attending a Poetry Workshop and Other Vocational Hazards | the liminal life of m

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