The May Online Book Choice Is:

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

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These ten letters are a compilation of Rilke’s responses to a young student who wanted advice; specifically whether his poetry was good enough to seriously consider making it a career.

Rilke’s responses are moving, mostly because he was motivated to help the student. Rilke had unsuccessfully attended the same military school that the student was currently attending. Rilke’s time at the academy was a devastating experience. He was abused physically and emotionally by his peers. He was not soldier strong and his artistic side was constantly being beaten down. He finally dropped out when he was 15 and then concentrated on becoming a poet and writer. He was just beginning to become popularly known when the student wrote to him.

‘Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create  … The point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’

This speaks to the pain that Rilke felt:

‘And if there is one thing more that I must say to you, it is this: Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.’

I include a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:

I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone

I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
enough
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
enough
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.

I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother’s face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.

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