Archives for posts with tag: Rainer Maria Rilke

This Brain Pickings article reminds me how much I love Rainer Maria Rilke. Not only for his formal works, with their distinct rhythms and striking imagery, but also his deep and still timely thoughts on creativity. I read Letters To A Young Poet when I was first learning the ways of my own creative life. It’s different for everyone, but Rilke’s wisdom is timeless and universal.

I struggled to make my way through a maze of combined exhilaration and self doubt, and found the passage quoted here about patience and “ripening like the tree which does not force its sap” more helpful, comforting, and reassuring than anything I’d encountered in the modern world. I have to think. Written words rarely come, until I’ve thought long enough. Sometimes it’s a conscious thinking process, but often it’s spontaneous and lives in the back of my head until it’s ready to become fiction. Poems are different. They tend to burst forth and free, before I even know I’ll be writing a poem. Fiction stays inside my brain, quietly building and forming, and then when it’s ready it commences to be written. This is my way, but when it first started to develop it felt weird and wrong. As if there was a way the words were supposed to come out and I had never been given the key to that way. 

It took me a long time to understand that writers I’d read about had their process and it was perfectly alright that mine was different. As I read Rilke’s letters to that enviable young poet, I felt a calm settle over me. I began to understand that finding and accepting my own, individual creative path would be the start of something wonderful. And it was. Once I became one with Rilke’s concept of the nature and exquisite timing of a tree, its indelible patience and unknowing wisdom, writing became a joy that has sustained me ever since.

Through those letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke became my mentor across time. In answer to the ubiquitous question about what one would wish to do if time travel were possible, I always think traveling to sun dappled, long ago Paris to sit beside Rilke in Rodin’s garden, absorbing the glorious light of his thoughtful words, would be a glimmering treasure captured by time itself. If only….

Until time travel becomes reality, his letters will suffice.

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”.