I discovered this book with the help of my piano teacher, and it’s the only story that I have finished reading on my own in a year’s time. I will try my best to summarize it as it has been quite a while since I had finished the English version(I will have to translate from the French version instead). I was in a state where I was mentally, and physically unwell. Although I had been described as healthy by my doctor, I knew that I was not. Perhaps it may have been a conflict I had with myself that believed in its serving only in opposition to the conventions of society, or possibly, a disturbing idea that I had kept in my unconscious mind that I had generated from my own confusing thoughts of my boundaries of perceptions. It really is a remarkable process to understanding the universe(as depicted in the book) and I guess the bliss in seeing the similarities of the confusing thoughts I had with the almost paranormal understandings of Rilke was what had revived my sense and sensibility.
“Letters to a young poet” is a collection of 10 letters from a correspondence between the great poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Franz Xavier Kappus, a young adult deciding between becoming a poet or becoming an officer in the Austrian-Hungarian Army. The letters are received back and forth over a period of six years, describing both the evolution of Franz Kappus(his gradual understanding of his intentions) and Rilke’s own life discoveries and observations.
As an idea of Kappus in publishing the letters in book form in 1929(three years after Rilke’s death), we are given a brief introduction by Franz Kappus, describing the journey of how the letters came to be and the greatness of Rilke. He describes his initial response during autumn time, when he was reading in a park near the Austrian-Hungarian Military Academy, one of his professors, Parsons Horacek approaches him and takes his book out of his hand, before finally revealing the name of the book as Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, a massive coincidence that showed that Rilke, a previous pupil of Horacek had become a poet. With this new information, Kappus then sends Rilke a couple of his own poems for feedback and as he puts it, “…unreservedly laid bare [his] heart as never before and never since to any second human being”, a passage that lays the bases for discovery, an illustration of the essence of the book itself.”
The first letter, written the next year in February 1903, Rilke responds to Franz Kappus’ first letter, refusing to critique any of Kappus’ works and opposes that question by stating that “…to grasp a work of art, nothing is worse than the words of the critic…”, later explaining how the true quality of a work of art is in the manner of the creator. Highlighting the most important inquiry of the artist as being absolutely certain of one’s utmost commitment to expression and creation of the self (not to be interfered by other customs of expression), the honest but powerful response of “I must” to the question of the commitment to creation is raised as the door to the journey of the artist.
The following letter introduces a welcoming invitation for the desire to inquire, as implied by the first letter. Although it is comparatively short, it still responds with the same generosity of guidance that is of the first letter. Rilke mentions the use of devices(of irony specifically) as gestures that must be used purely in their own unique function rather than as a tool to cover or fix something(probably as a comment of his own feelings on the mode of how Kappus had expressed). What I’ve realized from many letters (like the second letter) is the ever so slightly impression of a redemption after perhaps some criticism that may only be evident to the person that Rilke is communicating with and how great of a feature that is to be able to teach/introduce without stating exactly may be the problem of a work. The form of the letters are written in a form of self-inquiry, so that when the time comes, the reader/listener may understand them on their own terms. That is a method although risky in the way that the progress of the reader/listener may not be in line to measurable terms, but pleasant in its encouragement of self-growth and self-discovery.
Simply and easily, the key to the massively beyond-earth view that the artist must intend to explore and explore wisely in the sense that (as Rilke puts it) to have the privilege “…to be defeated by greater and greater things…”
The only journey is the one within.
-Rainer Maria Rilke(1875-1926)