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.”