the postal confessor

You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple “I must“, then build your life according to this necessity; your life must, right to its most unimportant and insignificant hour, become a token and a witness of this impulse. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, as if you were one of the first men, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and usual: they are the most difficult, for great and fully matured strength is needed to make an individual contribution where good and in part brilliant traditions exist in plenty.

Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your own everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty — depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory. If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. And even if you were in a prison whose walls allowed none of the sounds of the world to reach your senses — would you not still have always your childhood, that precious, royal richness, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention there. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that distant past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will extend itself and will become a twilit dwelling which the noise of others passes by in the distance.

And if from this turning inwards, from this sinking into your private world, there come verses, you will not think to ask anyone whether they are good verses. You will not attempt, either, to interest journals in these works: for you will see in them your own dear genuine possession, a portion and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity.

-Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Letters to a Young Poet

Buying this book containing collection of 10 letters has been my greatest investment in these past 2 months I would say for an unbelievably low price for a priceless collection of letters by Rilke. I think everyone immersed in art or literature (or life) should at least encounter this piece of beautifully-written advices addressed by Rilke to a distant stranger named Franz Xaver Kappus, who had been corresponding with him for around 2 years. Rilke the solitary great poet in European history, the “hermit”, the “postal confessor” writes in a very humble manner for someone as great as he is. And one thing I can’t bear from reading the very first paragraph, I felt like crying for each sentence offers a slight sense of intimacy and is undeniably powerful, maybe because it’s a personal letter. This is a kind of book that I can possibly read more than once, even twice. Last but not least, following the advice of this great man, I will try as best as possible from now on to decline being endowed with muse coming from such impulse to write lame love poems. Pfft.

And where a great and unique man speaks, small men must keep silence.
-Franz Xaver Kappus.


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