Letters to a Young Poet: Book Review

I took more books with me on my last vacation than I could ever have read, even in a month. In fact, I had one small suitcase for books and vacation odds and ends alone. The man at the ticket counter lifting onto the scales exclaimed, “what have you got in there?” Needless to say, I seriously overestimated how much time I’d be reading versus just relaxing and going with the flow, but I did finish one gem, one of the smaller books I took with me and it had a great impact on my thinking so I wanted to share it with you in case you haven’t yet read it.

<em>Letters to a Young Poet</em>, by Rainer Maria Rilke is a classic for creatives. Written in 1934 and translated by MD Herter Norton, it remains one of the most thought provoking and profound advice for artists in every field imaginable.

It’s a book you will come back to time and again to be reminded about the importance of expression for your soul. The collection of letters (written to an admiring fan) seek to both encourage and caution the recipient in his toward an artistic life. Allowing the creative side of us to emerge as a form of self development and spiritual practice. He states, “Everything is gestation…patience is everything.”

Knowing about Rilke’s life, his insistence that we exercise patience comes from his constant struggle to carve out enough time to reflect and create his own works. He encourages the reader to have patience in life, with ourselves and with our work. The way in which the divine works through us couldn’t have been made more clear as he explains that the process of development and transformation is one that we’re seldom aware of until after its occurrence, hence it’s beauty and mystery and why we keep after it as we do.

‘the future enters into us…to transform itself in us long before it happens. And this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad; because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from the outside. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much the deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more will it be <em>our</em> destiny, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it.’

The greatest advice he offers is a calming assurance that whatever we choose to pursue from a place of divine inspiration can only be supported vigorously by the Universe and it’s attendants.

Finally he simplifies all of this wonderful advice in a few short sentences one can cling to while busy working from the heart.

“Find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others, And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me; life is right in any case.”

Although written in the emerging 1900s I found Rilke’s perspective and advice encouraging and inspiring for anyone on the path of self development and with a desire to lead a more creative life. The fact that Rilke was in fact experiencing and working through all of the ideals and challenges that he was supporting his correspondent with reinforces the idea that all of us learn in a cyclical fashion and that when we share our struggles, the answers to our own questions are revealed. Its also indicative of the way in which our sharing our journeys ensures our participation in the larger intended purpose – one that we’re not always aware of but that holds us together and supports us to keep growing and being more fully human.

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