You know the question some people have to think long and hard about and others snap out an instant answer? The one that goes: If you could go back in time and have a conversation with anybody from the past, who would it be? I’m one of the snap it out people. Rainer Maria Rilke (though I will admit Nikola Tesla is a close second).

I first discovered Rilke’s poetry through the beautiful TV series Beauty and the Beast. The Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton one, not the CW one. That show made me fall in love with poetry. I’m not quite sure how Rilke’s distinctive, gorgeous, and not as accessible as many others poems struck such a cord with me that they rose above all others, but I’m grateful for the introduction to what has become a lifelong love for all things Rilke.

Yes, all things. In addition to his poetry that paints word pictures with its rhythm and lyrical descriptiveness, he also wrote equally lyrical prose. His book Letters to a Young Poet, in which he instructs and encourages a young friend, serves to do the same for me. There’s a particular line about creativity and the ability to write on command being different for different people and the way it must rise as sap in a tree (paraphrased, but the way I remember it many years after reading it), that resonated with me at a time when I struggled to fit into the molds of others with rigid ideas about how one must write. I felt that I had been “given permission” by my mentor from long ago to write the way my brain insisted was my way. That that made it THE way for me. Even still, when I rue the way I work, taking however much time my way needs to plot, and name characters, and order stories, the words “as sap in a tree” creep into my being, I relax, and go about my thing, my way. Even in a passing comment in correspondence, Rilke enhanced my own life, so, so many years after his death.

His death…. I read a story that he pricked his finger on a rose thorn, contracted blood poisoning, and died. What a tragic, yet romantic story. How fitting, though terrible, for a tragic, romantic poet.

This Brain Pickings article gives a taste of Letters to a Young Poet, and a flavor of Rilke himself, a man with such talent, such wordsmithery that he made me love the line “my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes”.

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