Letters to a Young Poet available in Paperback
Rilke's timeless letters about poetry, sensitive observation, and the complicated workings of the human heart.
Born in 1875, the great German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke published his first collection of poems in 1898 and went on to become renowned for his delicate depiction of the workings of the human heart. Drawn by some sympathetic note in his poems, young people often wrote to Rilke with their problems and hopes. From 1903 to 1908 Rilke wrote a series of remarkable responses to a young, would-be poet on poetry and on surviving as a sensitive observer in a harsh world. Those letters, still a fresh source of inspiration and insight, are accompanied here by a chronicle of Rilke's life that shows what he was experiencing in his own relationship to life and work when he wrote them.
|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
RAINER MARIA RILKE (1875–1926) is one of the greatest poets who ever wrote in the German language. His most famous works are Sonnets to Orpheus, The Duino Elegies, Letters to a Young Poet, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and The Book of Hours.
M. D. Herter Norton is a publisher and translator. Together with her husband William Warder Norton, she founded the publishing company W. W. Norton & Company. Her work as translator includes the translation of works by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Read an Excerpt
February 17, 1903
Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, who life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings or something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, "My Soul." There, something of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem "To Leopardi" a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet anything independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them, managed to make clear to me various fault that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are update when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you tostop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise you or help youno 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 root into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And is this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
From the Paperback edition.
Table of Contents
Contents Translator’s Preface xiii Translator’s Introduction xv Introduction by the Young Poet 1 The Letters 3 Commentary 35 Rilke in English 55
What People are Saying About This
“For this reason, my dear Sir, the only advice I have is this: to go into yourself and to examine the depths from which your life springs; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you have to write. Accept this answer as it is,without seeking to interpret it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then assume this fate and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking after the rewards that may come from outside. For he who creates must be a world of his own and find everything within himself and in the natural world that he has elected to follow. [. . .] Whatever happens, your life will find its own paths from that point on, and that they may be good, productive and far-reaching is something I wish for you more than I can say.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
“I cannot think of a better book to put into the hands of any young would-be poet, as an inspirational guide to poetry and to surviving as a poet in a hostile world.”
—Harry Fainlight, The Times (London)
“I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every day.”
This fresh translation of Rilke's famous letters reminds us anew that Rilke is addressing not just his young correspondent but everyone, and that his advice is not only about how to write poems but how to live a deliberate, meaningful life. In these overly excited times, it is inspiring to listen to the patient counsel of this meditative man, this champion of solitude.
If I could recommend only one book to a young writer, it would be Rilke's perpetually fresh and penetrating Letters to a Young Poet, especially in Mark Harman's lucid new translation, which so capably captures the original's radiant intimacy. This small but inexhaustible volume belongs on every writer's bookshelf.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
These are the letter Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to the young, aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus. Through these letters, Rilke imparts his thoughts and feelings on living your life to its fullest potential, but to also make sure that you stay true to yourself throughout. I read through this book every couple of years, and it never fails to amaze me how a collection of letters written over 90 years ago can still have so much to offer us today. My copy is dog-eared from multiple readings, with numerous passages underlined, but I still seem to find something new in each reading that is relevant to my life right now.
This translation is TERRIBLE. It is sawdust in the mouth compared to Stephen Mitchell's translation. This newer translation carries NONE of the poetry and grace conveyed in Rilke's own words. Go buy Stephen Mitchell's translation, instead!