Why read Letters to a Young Poet?
It’s some of the best advice on creativity.
What’s is in the book?
In 1903 Franz Kappus (a 17 years old student) wrote the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (27 years old) asking his advice on becoming a writer.
The book is a collection of Rilke’s replies over a series of 10 letters. In the letters Rilke beautifully articulates advice on topics of creativity, dealing with criticism, inspiration, love, life, and loneliness.
Testimonials from famous people
“For me the letters are a credo of creativity and a source of inspiration. After reading Rilke it became clear that I had no choice in the matter. I had to create.” – Dennis Hopper
When asked, “What advice would I give to someone looking to make music their career?” Sarah Mclachlan responded, “I’d tell them to go read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Because his advice is better than any advice I could ever give.”
Quotes from the Book
When Franz asks Rilke, “Are my poems good?”
Rilke responds, “You ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now, since you have given me permission to advice you, I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must do now. No one can advise and help you, no one.
There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? ” [Letter #1]
How do you measure your progress and creativity?
Rilke writes: “To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might no follow. It will come regardless. But it comes only to those who live as though eternity stretches before them, carefree, silent and endless. I learn it daily, learn it with many pains, for which I am grateful: Patience is all!” [Letter #3]
On looking for answers in life
“Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question.” [Letter #4]
On the importance of aloneness for creativity
“What you really need is simply this – aloneness, great inner solitude. To go within and for hours not to meet anyone – that is what one needs to attain. To be lonely as one was lonely as a child, while adults were moving about, entangled with things that seemed big and important, because the grownups looked so busy and because one could not understand any of their doings – that must be the goal.” [Letter #6]
- Read Letters to a Poet — the entire text
- Read the Sam Bean piece on his songwriting process: The Sound of Songwriting: With Sam Beam of the Iron & Wine
Title: Letters to a Young Poet
Author: Rainer Maria Rilke
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: New World Library; 2nd edition (March 7, 2000)