Day 66 – Letter #4

Letters to a Young Poet
Letter # 4
Rainer Maria Rilke

Worpswede, near Bremen
July 16, 1903

About ten days ago I left Paris, tired and quite sick, and traveled to this great northern plain, whose vastness and silence and sky ought to make me well again. But I arrived during a long period of rain; this is the first day it has begun to let up over the restlessly blowing landscape, and I am taking advantage of this moment of brightness to greet you, dear Sir.

My dear Mr. Kappus: I have left a letter from you unanswered for a long time; not because I had forgotten it – on the contrary: it is the kind that one reads again when one finds it among other letters, and I recognize you in it as if you were very near. It is your letter of May second, and I am sure you remember it. As I read it now, in the great silence of these distances, I am touched by your beautiful anxiety about life, even more than when I was in Paris, where everything echoes and fades away differently because of the excessive noise that makes Things tremble. Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train yourself for that but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything. Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. If you just recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own talent and nature, out of your own experience and childhood and strength, to achieve a wholly individual relation to sex (one that is not influenced by convention and custom), then you will no longer have to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your dearest possession.

     Bodily delight is a sensory experience, not any different from pure looking or the pure feeling with , which a beautiful fruit fills the tongue; it is a great, an infinite learning that is given to us, a knowledge of the world, the fullness and the splendor of all knowledge. And it is not our acceptance of it that is bad; what is bad is that most people misuse this learning and squander it and apply it as a stimulant on the tired places of their lives and as a distraction rather than as a way of gathering themselves for their highest moments. People have even made eating into something else: necessity on the one hand, excess on the other; have muddied the clarity of this need, and all the deep, simple needs in which life renews itself have become just as muddy. But the individual can make them clear for himself and live them clearly (not the individual who is dependent, but the solitary man). He can remember that all beauty in animals and plants is a silent, enduring form of love and yearning, and he can see the animal, as he sees plants, patiently and willingly uniting and multiplying and growing, not out of physical pleasure, not out of physical pain, but bowing to necessities that are greater than pleasure and pain, and more powerful than will and withstanding. If only human beings could more humbly receive this mystery which the world is filled with, even in its smallest Things, could bear it, endure it, more solemnly, feel how terribly heavy it is, instead of taking it lightly. If only they could be more reverent to ward their own fruitfulness, which is essentially one, whether it is manifested as mental or physical; for mental creation too arises from the physical, is of one nature with it and only like a softer, more enraptured and more eternal repetition of bodily delight. “The thought of being a creator, of engendering, of shaping” is nothing without its continuous great confirmation and embodiment in the world, nothing without the thousand-fold assent from Things and animals – and our enjoyment of it is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is full of inherited memories of the engendering and birthing of millions. In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with majesty and exaltation. And those who come together in the nights and are entwined in rocking delight perform a solemn task and gather sweetness, depth, and strength for the song of some future poet, who will appear in order to say ecstasies that are unsayable. And they call forth the future; and even if they have made a mistake and embrace blindly, the future comes anyway, a new human being arises, and on the foundation of the accident that seems to be accomplished here, there awakens the law by which a strong, determined seed forces its way through to the egg cell that openly advances to meet it. Don’t be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live the mystery falsely and badly (and they are very many) lose it only for themselves and nevertheless pass it on like a sealed letter, without knowing it. And don’t be puzzled by how many names there are and how complex each life seems. Perhaps above them all there is a great motherhood, in the form of a communal yearning. The beauty of the girl, a being who (as you so beautifully say) “has not yet achieved anything,” is motherhood that has a presentiment of itself and begins to prepare, becomes anxious, yearns. And the mother’s beauty is motherhood that serves, and in the old woman there is a great remembering. And in the man too there is motherhood, it seems to me, physical and mental; his engendering is also a kind of birthing, and it is birthing when he creates out of his innermost fullness. And perhaps the sexes are more akin than people think, and the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in one phenomenon: that man and woman, freed from all mistaken feelings and aversions, will seek each other not a opposites but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will unite as human beings, in order to bear in common, simply, earnestly, and patiently, the heavy sex that has been laid upon them.

But everything that may someday be possible for many people, the solitary man can now, already, prepare and build with his own hands, which make fewer mistakes. Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away, you write, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast. And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust. Avoid providing material for the drama, that is always stretched tight between parent and children; it uses up much of the children’s strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn’t comprehend Don’t ask for any advice from them and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.

It is good that you will soon be entering a profession that will make you independent and will put you completely on your own, in every sense. Wait patiently to see whether your innermost life feels hemmed in by the form this profession imposes. I myself consider it a very difficult and very exacting one, since it is burdened with enormous conventions and leaves very little room for a personal interpretation of its duties. But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths. All my good wishes are ready to accompany you, and my faith is with you


Rainer Maria Rilke

Day 58 – Letters to a Young Poet

This is one of the letters from the book, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Borgebygard, Fladie, Sweden
August 12, 1904
I want to talk to you again for a little while, dear Mr. Kappus, although
there is almost nothing I can say that will help you, and I can hardly find one
useful word. You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you
say that even this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask
yourself whether these large sadnesses haven’t rather gone right through you.
Perhaps many things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere,
deep inside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were
sad. The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we
carry around in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases
that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short
interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are
life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. If only it were possible
for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the
outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadnesses with greater
trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new
has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment,
everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience,
which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.
It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which
we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living.
Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because
everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because
we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is
why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been
added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no
longer even there, — is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it
was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have
changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can’t say who has come,
perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in
this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why
it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the
seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so
much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it
happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open
we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter
us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later
on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel
related and close to it in our innermost being. And that is necessary. It is necessary
— and toward this point our development will move, little by little — that
nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have
already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they ill also gradually
come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but
emerges from us. It is only because so many people have not absorbed and
transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized
what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that they have not realized
what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion
and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they
became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that
inside them. Just as people for a long time had a wrong idea about the sun’s
motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come. The
future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.
How could it not be difficult for us?
And to speak of solitude again, it becomes clearer and clearer that fundamentally
this is nothing that one can choose or refrain from. We are solitary. We
can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all. But how
much better it is to recognize that we are alone; yes, even to begin from this
realization. It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that our eyes used to
rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near us, and everything
far away is infinitely far. A man taken out of his room and, almost without
preparation or transition, placed on the heights of a great mountain range, would
feel something like that: an unequalled insecurity, an abandonment to the
nameless, would almost annihilate him. He would feel he was falling or think he
was being catapulted out into space or exploded into a thousand pieces: what a
colossal lie his brain would have to invent in order to catch up with and explain
the situation of his senses. That is how all distances, all measures, change for the
person who becomes solitary; many of these changes occur suddenly and then, as
with the man on the mountaintop, unusual fantasies and strange feelings arise,
which seem to grow out beyond all that is bearable. But it is necessary for us to
experience that too. We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can;
everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end
the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest,
most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that
people have in this sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the
experiences that are called “apparitions,” the whole so-called “spirit world,” death,
all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our daily defensiveness
been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have
been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God. But the fear of
the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also
narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has as it
were been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a
fallow place on the bank, where nothing happens. For it is not only indolence
that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such
unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable
experience, which we don’t think we can deal with. but only someone who is
ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and
will himself sound the depths of his own being. for if we imagine this being of
the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to
know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip
on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain
security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives
those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons
and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not
prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that
should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we
most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of
adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through
a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us.
We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against
us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to
us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life
in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the
difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most
intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that
stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last
moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are
princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless
that wants our love.
So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of
you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloudshadows,
moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize
that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds
you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your
life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know
what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute
yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?
Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished
for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions,
just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees
itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole
sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, dear
Mr. Kappus, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who
is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both.
And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every
sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that
is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than
anything else.
Don’t observe yourself too closely. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions
from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for
you to look with blame (that is: morally) at your past, which naturally has a share
in everything that now meets you. But whatever errors, wishes, and yearnings of
your boyhood are operating in you now are not what you remember and
condemn. The extraordinary circumstances of a solitary and helpless childhood
are so difficult, so complicated, surrendered to so many influences and at the
same time so cut off from all real connection with life that, where a vice enters it,
one may not simply call it a vice. One must be so careful with names anyway; it
is so often the name of an offense that a life shatters upon, not the nameless and
personal action itself, which was perhaps a quite definite necessity of that life and
could have been absorbed by it without any trouble. And the expenditure of
energy seems to you so great only because you overvalue victory; it is not the
“great thing” that you think you have achieved, although you are right about
your feeling; the great thing is that there was already something there which you
could replace that deception with, something true and real. Without this even
your victory would have been just a moral reaction of no great significance; but
in fact it has become a part of your life. Your life, dear Mr. Kappus, which I think
of with so many good wishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of
childhood toward the “great thing”? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the
great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult,
but that is also why it will not cease to grow.
And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think
that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the
simple and quiet words that sometimes give you much pleasure. His life has
much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he
would never have been able to find those words. 
Rainer Maria Rilke

Day 40 – The Whistle


The Whistle
A letter written by Benjamin Franklin

I received my dear friend’s two letters, one for Wednesday and one for Saturday.         This is again Wednesday.  I do not deserve one for to-day, because I have not answered the former.  But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles, if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen; and as Mr. B. has kindly sent me word that he sets out to-morrow to see you, instead of spending this Wednesday evening as I have done its namesakes, in your delightful company, I sit down to spend it in thinking of you, in writing to you, and in reading over and over again your letters.

    I am charmed with your descriptions of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world.  In my opinion, we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles.  For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution.

    You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself. Continue reading