“But your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”
I have sons and stepsons- five young adults – and I am vexed about the same concerns for all of them. How can I help them to live well in the world? And every time I ask myself this question I come to the conclusion that I can’t. I am still struggling with the question myself as we all do. I know in the rational part of my mind that each individual must ask their own questions, find their own path to some sort of equilibrium. That said, there is the other part of me, the spark of optimistic longing that wants to share that wealth of experience from authors and artists that have resonated with me, moved me, performed some magical alchemy that has allowed me to feel some sort of transcendent moment which makes life worthwhile, meaningful, exciting. It’s also why I write a blog, a catharsis of sharing what I have found valuable to my living. A howl into the wilderness to connect with other lives, belong to a tribe where I am accepted, nourished, nurtured.
Thus I come to the nub of today’s post – the illuminating writing from Rainer Maria Rilke in ‘Letters to a young poet’. The words of that hopeful young man preface the Penguin Little Black Classics version, as an older version of himself speak for themselves.
‘And where a great and unique person speaks, the rest of us should be silent’
-Franz Xaver Kappus , Berlin , 1929.
I will choose some of the text of the letters and share it here, but recommend the book to be read in its entirety,
On being asked to give criticism to the poets verses, Rilke writes to him ;
‘You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me that. You have asked others, before, You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry…let me ask you to give up all that. You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.’
‘…read as little as possible in the way of aesthetics and criticism (of works of art) – it will either be partisan views, fossilized..or neat wordplay, where one opinion will triumph one day and the opposite the next. Works of art are infinitely solitary…. Only love can grasp them and hold them and do them justice. – With regard to any such disquisition, review or introduction, trust yourself and your instincts; even if you go wrong in your judgement, the natural growth of your inner life will gradually, over time, lead you to other insights. Allow your verdicts their own quiet untroubled development which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or accelerated. Everything must be carried to term before it is born. To let every impression and the germ of every feeling come to completion inside, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, in what is unattainable to one’s own intellect, and to wait with deep humility and patience for the hour when a new clarity is delivered. ‘
Rilke doesn’t just advise the young man about art – it is fuller than that – but expresses his views on sexuality too – ideas about how to take deep pleasure in mature love, acknowledging that man often gets it wrong when ‘he loves only as a man, not as a human being’. If I could just take that line and impress it on my progeny, that would be enough.
More to follow!!