The Book of Rainer Maria Rilke


(1875 – 1926)

Letters to a Young Poet (Revised Edition, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, 1954)

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
(Letter #4, July 16th 1903).

…it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult…. To love is good too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is just preparation…. 

We are only just now beginning to look upon the relation of one individual person to a second individual person objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such associations have no model before them….  

The girl and the woman, in their new, their own unfolding, will but in passing be imitators of masculine ways, good and bad, and repeaters of masculine professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions it will become apparent that women were only going through the profusion and the vicissitude of those (often ridiculous) disguises in order to cleanse their own most characteristic nature of the distorting influences of the other sex…. This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she will have stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status, and those men who do not feel it approaching today will be surprised and stuck by it. Some day (and for this, particularly in the northern countries, reliable signs are already speaking and shining), some day there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence; the feminine human being. 

This advance will (at first much against the will of the out-stripped men) change the love experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer of man to woman. And this more gentle love (that will fulfill itself infinitely considerate and gentle, and kind and clear in binding and releasing) will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.
(Letter #7, May 14th 1904). 

…we will also gradually learn to realize that that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without into them. Only because so many have not absorbed their destinies and transmuted them within themselves while they were living in them, have they not recognized what has gone forth out of them…  

And to speak of solitude again, it becomes always clearer that this is at bottom not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as if this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so…. 

If there is anything morbid in your processes, just remember that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself of foreign matter; so one must help it to be sick; to have its whole sickness and break out with it for that is its progress. In you dear Mr. Kappus, so much is now happening; you must be patient as a sick man and confident as a convalescent; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are the doctor too, who has to watch over himself. But there are in every illness many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And this it is that you do, insofar as you are own doctor, must now above all do. 

Do not observe yourself too much. Do not draw too hasty conclusions from what has happened to you; let it simply happen to you. Otherwise you will too easily look with reproach (that is morally) upon your past which naturally has its share in all that you are now meeting.
(Letter #8, August 12th, 1904).

There is, perhaps, no use my going into your particular points now … [for] … it is as I have already said; always the wish that you may 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.
(Letter #9. November 1904). 

Footnote: The tenth, and final, letter was not written until four years later and was a very short reply to a new letter from Mr. Kappus.