Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Reassuring words written by Rainer Maria Rilke as an antidote to those spells of disillusionment. Rilke wrote:

“You must not compare yourself to others […] Work from necessity and your compulsion to do it […] Work on what you know and what you are sure you love […] Don’t let yourself be controlled by too much irony […] Live in and love the activity of your work […] Be touched by the beautiful anxiety of your work […] Love your solitude and try to sing with its pain”

These letters – written between 1903 and 1908, when Rilke was himself an emergent, but prominent poet – were addressed to a student who had sent Rilke poetry and requested guidance about becoming a writer. Though offering advice for an aspiring writer, I find these words can also provide succour and encouragement to the artist in those moments when (insomnia and) despondency is at the door and enthusiasm, confidence and faith are devoured in the abyss between conception and the realisation of a practice.

Awake since 3am and blaming the full moon. The cats tail is batting me as I type. It’s harder than I thought to work with no plan. But I’m going to have to try.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (Norton, Reissue, 2004) p.15

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | Special Issue Sept-Oct 2018, p.31