More than a century ago, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote his classic work Letters To A Young Poet, a collection of letters Rilke wrote to a young poet seeking his direction and encouragement. The work, long a classic for people seeking the strength to find a creative life, has encouraged and inspired generations of writers and artists.
I went into the Red barn today to read an excerpt from the first chapter, I hope to read it to my writing class when we next meeting. It is quite beautiful and will touch the heart of any creative who needs the strength and encouragement to live their life. I recorded the passage, and I also am re-printing it here, a voice and word post. The recording is the fourth “Inside Jon Katz” recording.
From February 17, 1903:
“You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now, I beg you to give up on all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way.
Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write, find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity: your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.
Then draw near to nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love-poems; avoid at first those forms that are too facile and commonplace; they are the most difficult, for it takes a great, fully matured power to give something of your own where good and even excellent traditions come to mind in quantity.
Therefore save yourself from those general themes and seek those which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of in some sort of beauty – describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it, blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.
And even if you were in some prison the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses – would you not then still have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention thither. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that ample past; your personality will grow more firm; your solitude will widen and will become a dusky dwelling past which the noise of others goes by far away.
And out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.”
I believe this would be a wonderful thing to ready to anyone, especially the young or the restless, who is considering the creative life, and since there are so many of you reading the blog, I wanted to share this book with you, I am soaking it up again. Since I was eight years old, I knew that I must write, it spread its roots in the deepest parts of me. I no longer ask anyone but myself if the words I write are good words. I have learned to look inward for those answers.
You can listen to my reading of these words here. Please note the commentary from one of the sheep.