Friday, March 20, 2009

Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet

I feel about Rilke as my husband once felt about jambalaya.

Let me explain.
Joel had never once in his then 25 years of life heard the word jambalaya. When this came up in conversation one afternoon, I was so incredulously shocked at his not knowing the dish much less the word, so I took the matter before a tribunal of friends. Even after their calm assurances that such a thing existed, he would have none of it. He has certainly come around, but the point is the disorientation we feel when our lives have never encountered something that others seem to know about. It's as if we were completely absent that day in school...

So I ask how an English major could graduate without even the mention of Rainer Maria Rilke. I have no idea and I blame Christian education. :)

Now that I know, I will never again look back. Rilke has moved me to my very core and couldn't have been encountered at a more perfect time (I know I say that often, but I feel that the divine must orchestrate the influence of literature for me as he would introduce people into another's).

In Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, I found words spoken with soul-wrenching truth and simplicity. He advises a young poet on matters of art, criticism, the existence of god, solitude, sadness, and poetry. Of course I would love it. I have so many passages marked that to include my favorites would certainly infringe on copyright laws. Let me narrow down a few:

He mentions that in judging your own art, one should never ask if it is good or bad, but if it was necessary. "A work of art is good if it has risen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it" (9).

I shared this passage in a letter to an artist, but it is so relevant:
"Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.
In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast" (24).

Lastly, I love his advise about sadness. When life brings us pain, he encourages humans to enter solitude as much as possible. "For the quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadness..."(85). I love this idea, and not to the exclusion of entering into the support of those you love, but in combating the way our western culture deals (by not dealing) with sadness. Sadness always has a message for our soul, and if we jump out of it as a potato out of boiling water, we will miss much of the secret rooms of our insides.

I am seriously crushing on Rilke,
mme. sadness


she said...

i'm seriously crushing on your crush on rilke. i think i'll dig out my own copy of the Letters and crack it open this week. i'm almost afraid to, for the truth it will speak to me. but i will be brave...

Jennifer said...

This really has nothing to do with your latest post. But I noticed that on your book list to the right, you had "Peace Child"...were you ever able to see the Dance performance of the book in the past years?

mme. bookling said...

Hi Jenn,
No! I didn't know such a thing existed...have you seen it?

PeregrineBlue said...

So happy you have discovered this masterpiece. You are right, the divine will lead you the books your soul is seeking. Just see what happens when you walk into a bookstore without any pre-conceptions. This is how I discovered Bukowski, the book literally said "here, here, read ME". The same happened with a tiny travel book by Dan Price (Hobo Artist) which became my security blanket for over a year and trust me I never go into the Travel section. I leave you with two recommendations: Kundera and Mario Benedetti's Little Stones at my Window. Enjoy the journey