Archives For Letters to a Young Poet

A Year With Rilke

February 18, 2015 — 2 Comments


I stumbled across this book of quotes and reflections by Rilke, A Year With Rilke (translated and edited by Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows). The quote for February 18, today, is my favorite. It’s from Letters to a Young Poet, July 16, 1903:

“I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.” ~Rilke

The daily entries come from Rilke’s letters as well as his books of poetry. It’s a very attractive 5 x 7 inch hardback book with 365 pages.


I recently read Letters to a Young Poet for the first time in many years (translated by Stephen Mitchell). It’s a short book, a compilation of ten letters written by Rilke between 1902 and 1908 to Franz Kappus, a young man entering military service. Rilke gives advice and insight to Kappus about what it takes to be a writer and an artist, and no matter where I am in my own writing life, I can find some sentence or thought that applies directly to me.

From the third letter in the collection:

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. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything! ~ Rilke

Rilke’s idea of the artist maturing slowly–time of no consequence–is in direct opposition to today’s social media world of instant gratification. I highly recommend both books if this is an area of interest.