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I don’t know what exactly made me pick this book off my shelf the other day, but I did. I really appreciated the soft tone of voice Rainer Maria Rilke has towards Franz Xaver Kappus. Kappus is the young poet receiving these letters in the early 1900s. They both went to the same military college and Kappus reached out on a whim and wound up getting these super thoughtful responses over the next few years.
It’s kinda cool only getting Rilke’s side of things instead of the full correspondence. You have to piece together what Kappus could have possibly written about his sadness or loneliness or creativeness. I loved most what Rilke says about childhood being an endless place to look to for your art. That even if you were in a prison and had nothing but the walls in front of you, you could still create because of those memories. His ideas about the value of solitude were also astute as hell.
As far as poetry suggestions goes, it seems distance is important. Distance from academia and journalism and other forms of non-art (according to Rilke). Distance from the piece itself–at one point he copies down a poem of Kappus’s and sends it back for him to read on his own as if it weren’t his. In the early letters, he is also saying to stop seeking outside approval on your pieces. You have to love your poems. It won’t matter in the end if editors or poets or whoever else liked them. If you feel that you must write and you can’t live without it, then write.
Best line: “You must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both.” -Rainer Maria Rilke p 64