Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke: Book Review Part 2
In my last blog post, I reviewed the first six letters of Rilke to Kappus. They were highly erudite but very emotional, and sometimes highly sentimental letters on Rilke’s view on sex, lust, God, love, aloneness, and so forth. Today I will examine the remaining four letters and conclude my book review of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. As mentioned before, the review is subjective, but I’ve tried to fit in as much reflective data as possible in this detailed book review. Believe me, the letters are much more than what this review is making it out to be. I hope that you will grab a copy of this book of letters by Rilke on your Kindle or order a physical copy, and enjoy this rich plethora of thoughts conveyed through the writings of a highly intellectually gifted man, Rainer Maria Rilke.
In the seventh letter, Rilke talks about love. To him, love is something absolutely difficult to comprehend, and to love even one person on this earth TRULY, notice my emphasis on the word truly, is the most difficult task of all. How many of us can say that we have, from the beginning to the end of our days, loved even one person perfectly? I’m sure no one can say that they have loved someone, even where our most beloved family member or friend or lover is concerned, without being angry, or hurt, or hateful, or dismissive about this person. So, in Rilke’s eyes, this is a difficult topic and a difficult job that is involved in this process of being a writer or poet and is highly intrinsic to the life of a human being in the proper sense of the term. Love is the ultimate test of fidelity. Young people keep on falling into love and lust or both. Love according to Rilke is like the ripening of the pregnant belly of a woman. Love is beautiful but it can also be lonely; you are alone at times with your love especially when the other person is not reciprocating the feelings you are experiencing. By falling in love early, Rilke feels that the youth are making a terrible mistake because they lose an opportunity to gain a true lover who can love you better than your first, second, or third choice. Rilke criticizes society for making love to be a form of entertainment:
- That is easily available.
- Common public entertainment.
But Rilke is sure that aloneness in love is also very important. He figures that love is personal, full of the most intimate questions, and is exclusively personal to the individual or artist feeling this emotion. Rilke is sentimental where love is concerned, which doesn’t go down well with me, but he also mentions a nice point that the main obstacle in every love story that is created and fashioned in this world is – convention. What to do and how to do and where to do and when to do and where to do – this is what we are doing practically throughout our lives when we try to emote love! He tells Kappus not to give in to convention. He tells Kappus to do the world a favor and just don’t give in to it, and make a better world for our children. He finds women to be more mature than men and says that love is basically three types of loneliness:
- Protecting one another.
- Setting limits.
- Acknowledging one another.
In the eighth letter, Rilke seems to have run out of inspirational words to say to Kappus. You will observe that the eighth, ninth, and tenth letters are short, sketchy, and full of final farewells. In the eighth letter, Rilke talks about grief. He says that grief is nothing but moments of tension and that we as human beings endure grief much more readily than our joys. Rilke believes that grief is a transition period and changes us, just like a house changes when a guest arrives in it. Rilke says it is very important to be alone and observant when one is sad. One should analyze the sadness and realize that our sad fate doesn’t come from outside but comes from within us and resides within us. Just like people were mistaken about the movements of the sun, so also, they are mistaken about grief, and I agree with Rilke on this point – fate comes from within human beings and not from outside. Writers and poets are people who like being alone and most of the time ARE technically speaking alone already, even before they know it. We are people who are averse to anything new. We go through a life of constant daily resistance and are people who throughout our lives don’t see the whole picture. Rilke gives the example of one’s favorite corner in a room or a house. Everyone in the house has their special little corner where they are ALWAYS found if they are in that room. We create these little prisons for ourselves. I like the way Rilke mentions Edgar Allan Poe, one of my favorite classic ghost story writers, as a writer whose stories always concerned some character stuck in a prison of his or her own and that these are created by our illusions. There should be nothing to stop us from going the distance in fulfilling our lives as successful poets or writers least of all these little prisons! Rilke feels that everything that we fear in life are things that we are helpless against. When we can handle a situation, there is no fear. The moment we can’t – boom! There is fear. One must act in the same way as a person who is ailing acts:
- Be as patient as someone who is ill.
- Be as optimistic as someone who is recuperating from an illness.
This brings to mind our current situation with COVID-19. We are helpless and so, definitely, we are afraid. But guess what? According to Rilke, we as artists are also physicians. Only we can cure our fears and our doubts about our realities; no one else can. Rilke mentions crime in this letter as well. He is quite straight about one thing, that when a person commits a crime, it’s the general ‘title’ of the crime that is more life-shattering to a person than the actual crime itself. Like with murder, no one cares under what circumstances you or whoever it may be murdered an individual. It’s the fact that the term murder is stuck to you that renders you, yet again, a person with the baggage or label of ‘murderer’ as everyone else who has been part of this term ‘murder’ over the ages. It reminds me of a book I once read and reviewed titled What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali. In that book, the author showed how most of the time rape survivors are defined their entire lives by that unfortunate incident of rape. It need not matter whatever else they do, the ‘raped’ word sticks permanently. At least now times are changing, a bit. Rilke also brings to Kappus’s mind the fact that he can give this advice to him not because he is immune to all that he is talking about, but that he has gone through it all himself and, therefore, has found the words to soothe another troubled soul.
The ninth letter is endearing but brief. Rilke says that he has been thinking a lot about Kappus during his travels. He wishes Kappus all the very best and tells him to allow life to happen to him. He blesses him with patience to endure life’s many challenges and innocence to have faith. He tells Kappus never to have doubts. He mentions that if Kappus has doubts they should be critical in nature, in the sense they should question all doubts which are based on fear, worry, anxiety, and so forth. According to Rilke one must under no circumstance give into doubts, but one must keep on questioning our doubts. This brings back our memory to Rilke’s first few letters which spoke of critiquing and questioning. He advises Kappus to have the discipline to work at his trade and to never give in to negative thoughts.
The last letter is ‘the day after Christmas’ letter. Rilke praises Kappus’s beautiful letter to him and summarizes the main points of what he has advised him all this while through his letters, especially the advice about being alone in solitude. Rilke can’t praise quietude and aloneness enough. He believes it will make up for the lack of genetic influence of the ancestral blood in Kappus.
I really enjoyed doing a book review of this collection of letters. I highly recommend them to be read, pondered, and acted upon by all writers. I have picked out certain of my favorite passages and will come back to them from time to time. There is a rather old-world flavor to the letters, but the thoughts are new, unique, and very alluring. I have to admit this was the first time I was reading anything penned by Rainer Maria Rilke. I hope to add more of his books to my ever-increasing to-be-read shelf and read them as soon as possible. Once I read these books by Rilke, I will certainly do a book review on them. I hope this book review was helpful to you. If you are interested in more book reviews, short story analysis, poems, and other bookish stuff then you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you want to buy my books, then you can check out my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always!
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