Beloved poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the words below in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters were first published in 1929 and later, in 1984, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. Published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, they are among the most beloved letters of all time.
On this International Women’s Day, and in light of my novel’s themes of female empowerment at a time, the late 1960s, when modern-day “Women’s Lib” was first hitting its stride, it seems fitting to share Rilke’s early twentieth century perspective on women’s potential:
“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
A comment on my last post–He made us laugh. He made us cry. He left us asking why.—has prompted me to share the eloquent, wise words above. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote them in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell in 1984 and published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, are among the most beloved letters of all time. And it’s no wonder! Over the past twenty years I have read and reread multiple passages in the letters, for comfort, for inspiration. The depth of understanding about life which they reflect is revelatory, stunning when one realizes that Rilke was only twenty-seven when he corresponded with Kappus. We know he had a painful childhood, that he struggled greatly with solitude, a burden he felt necessary for self-preservation. Even so, he loved deeply and had a rare appreciation of women. (One of the paragraphs about women’s strengths is remarkably fitting for today; I will share that quote, and others, in future posts.) There is so much in these letters. If you are not familiar with Rilke, seek out Letters to a Young Poet and read his poetry. I wouldn’t be at all surprised you don’t also come to treasure his words.