Written with a simple, elegant, and com(passionate) prose, Rainer Maria Rilke pens a series of letters to a young aspiring poet, Franz Xaver Kappus that contain a stunningly beautiful argument and plea for living an authentic life, that addresses the silent questions that exist in the deepest chambers of our hearts, the grand themes of literature, and hence life: the meaning of solitude and how to love.
The first letter gives the greatest advice anyone can give to someone aspiring to be anything. You have to ask yourself the following question: "must I?" If you answer in the affirmative, then "build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into it's humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse." That you must only judge Art by the following value, has it arisen out of necessity?
The second letter, he warns against the role of irony running through your life and one must guard against it by searching "into the depths of Things: there irony never descends."
The third letter argues that one must always trust in yourself and your own feelings. Do not fall victim to convention. Which is nothing more than unwillingness on each of our parts to not fully engage life, but rather to take what others have said and done as well-traveled roads to walk through life upon. For the person living a poetic life, "everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable...and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating."
The fourth letter argues for one to trust in Nature. We all must learn how to "win the confidence of what seem poor." A fundamental change in our mindset must occur in our hearts, a shift from convention to authenticity. We have "to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language." The incredible thirst for quick and easy answers to life's most difficult questions must end. We have to take in the questions, which are really emotions or feelings without names into our bloodstreams. To "live the questions." He goes on to expand upon our relations to sex. "Sex is difficult." We all have to create out of each of our own unique lives an individual relation to sex and hence to our lovers, without carrying the luggage that society and convention loads us down with, then you will approach being a human being. Sex has to become more than a stimulant or balm to cover a more fundamental ache in our spirits. We should be stewards of our own "fruitfulness" to "gather sweetness , depth, and strength for the song of some future poet." (DO YOU DO THAT INBETWEEN THE SHEETS! )
The sixth letter concerns the notion of "solitude." We all create a "vast inner solitude." To walk inside yourself for hours without meeting anyone, that is what you must be able to attain. Through this you gain a child-like perspective, a great "wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn (of adults)." It is within the vast ocean of your solitude that we can truly approach and understand the dimensions of divinity that exists. How do you confront God? By being "patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come."
The entire series of letters find its zenith in the seventh letter in which Rilke takes the notion of Solitude and marries it with Love. He argues that yes "love is difficult." But that we must put our trust "in what is difficult as Nature does, to exercise our beings to their fullness." The act of Loving another human being is the "most difficult task...for which all other work is mere preparation." Each of us must "learn" how to love. To know that it springs from our oceans of solitude not from a formless merging of ourselves to another. But rather that each of us must "ripen" into individuals that can experience and give love, "to hearken and hammer day and night." To Love is to accept a "burden and apprenticeship" that allows each authentic person to grow and become rather than fall back and lose what makes them unique and rare. The ultimate aim of life is "the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other."
The seventh letter deals with the meaning and confronting of sadness. Rather than running away or fearing sadness, Rilke argues that it is something that must be embraced as an opportunity. These are the moments when something new is entering us "our feelings grow mute in shy embarrasment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing." In the face of this sadnessthe only courage required is to "face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that meet us." Not to run and cower before the immensity of those feelings and experiences, but to recognize them for what they are, an opportunity to blossom.
The ninth letter argues that we must trust our feelings. But only those feelings that uplift us entire, not by portion. Feelings that raise only a part of us, distort us.
The final letter argues for this poetic life. For Rilke, "Art too is a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it."
These ten letters show you how.