Quotes from book
Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet is a collection of ten letters written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus , a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. Rilke, the son of an Austrian army officer, had studied at the academy's lower school at Sankt Pölten in the 1890s. Kappus corresponded with the popular poet and author from 1902 to 1908 seeking his advice as to the quality of his poetry, and in deciding between a literary career or a career as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army. Kappus compiled and published the letters in 1929—three years after Rilke's death from leukemia.


Rainer Maria Rilke photo

„Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.“

—  Rainer Maria Rilke, book Letters to a Young Poet

Letter One (17 February 1903)
Letters to a Young Poet (1934)
Context: No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.

Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo

„People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition.“

—  Rainer Maria Rilke, book Letters to a Young Poet

Letter Seven (14 May 1904)
Letters to a Young Poet (1934)
Context: People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.
To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo

„All emotions are pure which gather you and lift you up; that emotion is impure which seizes only one side of your being and so distorts you.“

—  Rainer Maria Rilke, book Letters to a Young Poet

Letter Nine (4 November 1904)
Letters to a Young Poet (1934)
Context: All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.

Rainer Maria Rilke photo

„And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.“

—  Rainer Maria Rilke, book Letters to a Young Poet

Letter Four (16 July 1903)
Variant: 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. (Translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Letters to a Young Poet (1934)
Context: Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo
Rainer Maria Rilke photo

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