Rainer Maria Rilke


Worpswede near Bremen, July 16th, 1903

I left Paris about ten days ago, quite worn down and exhausted, and have traveled to a great northern plain where open space, silence and the sky are supposed to restore my health. But I arrived in a persistent rain that only today seems to lighten up a bit over the countryside raked by fitful gusts, and I take advantage of this first bright moment to greet you, my dear Sir.

Dear Mr. Kappus: for quite some time I’ve left one of your letters without a response. But not because I had forgotten it; on the contrary: it was the kind that you read again when coming upon it, and I was able to recognize you in that letter as if you were sitting next to me. I am speaking of the letter of May 2nd; you surely remember it. When I re-read it, as I’m doing now, in the great silence of this distant location, your lovely concern for life moves me even more than it had already in Paris, where every sound begins and trails off differently due to the overwhelming noise that makes all things tremble. Here, surrounded by enormous countryside swept by incessant winds from the sea, here I sense that your questions and feelings which have their own life deep inside will not be answered by another human being. For even the most gifted sometimes choose the wrong words when they are supposed to express the most subtle and almost inexpressible things. I nonetheless believe that you do not have to remain without a solution as long as you focus on things like those on which I currently rest my eyes. Rely on nature, on what is so very simple in it, on the tiny things that hardly anyone sees but which can so suddenly become immeasurably great and incommensurate; allow your love to reach even the smallest smallest, most negligible things and try quite humbly as a servant to gain the trust of all that seems poor, paltry, miserable. Then everything will become easier, more coherent and, so to speak, more accommodating and conciliatory for you. Perhaps not for the thinking part of you, which will be left behind in amazement, but your deepest consciousness will awaken and know.

You are so young to embark on anything and I implore you to the best of my ability, dear Sir, to have patience with everything that has not been resolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms for which you lack the key, and books written in a completely foreign tongue. Do not search for answers that cannot be given to you now because you could not live them. And it is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will one distant day simply live your way into the answer, without even noticing. Perhaps you have within yourself the gift to shape and the gift to create, as a particularly blissful and pure way of life. Train yourself to do this – but accept whatever happens with utmost confidence. As long as everything that happens is something you absolutely must do, as long as it comes out of a deep urge inside of you, accept this burden without hating anything.

Sexuality is burdensome, indeed. But all the tasks we have been given are difficult. Almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If only you recognize that and succeed, based on your gifts and way of being, on your particular experiences, childhood and strength (and not based on conventions and customs), to forge your very own relationship to your sexuality, then you no longer need to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your greatest gift. Bodily lust is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a delicious fruit fills our tongue. It is a tremendous and limitless experience that is given to us as knowledge of the whole world, as knowledge in all of its fullness and glory. The fact that we experience it is not bad in itself. What is bad is that almost everyone abuses and wastes this experience by turning it into a stimulant for those moments when life gets dull, and as a distraction rather than an opportunity to gather oneself into a higher state. Humans have done the same with food: by thinking of food in terms of either lack or excess, they have obscured the clarity of this need. All of the deep and simple needs through which life renews itself have become muddled in this way. But each individual has the power to clarify these for himself and to live clearly (even if not everyone, then at least someone who is alone and does not overly depend on others). It is up to him to remember that all beauty, whether that of animals or plants, is a quiet, enduring form of love and longing. He can look at the animal and truly see it, just as he sees a plant, uniting, multiplying, and growing patiently and willingly not to obey the dictates of physical lust or physical pain but to obey laws that are greater than lust and pain and more powerful than will and resistance.

If man only received this secret more humbly of which the earth abounds even in the tiniest things, if man only bore this secret more seriously! If man only accepted this burden and sensed how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it lightly! If man only were properly reverent and awed by his fertility, which is one and the same, whether of the spirit or the flesh. For mental creativity also originates in the flesh. It is of the same essence and nothing but a quieter, more ecstatic and more everlasting repetition of physical lust. “The notion of being a creator and of procreating and creating things,” is nothing without its unending great confirmation and actualization in the world. It is nothing until it has been affirmed a thousand times over by the things and animals around us. The pleasure we take in our power to create is so indescribably beautiful and rich only because it is full of inherited memories of the procreation and birthing of millions of beings. A single creative thought brings back to life a thousand forgotten nights of love, which endow this thought with splendor andimportance. Those who come together at night and are entwined in the rhythms of physical lust carry out an important task. They gather sweetness, depth and strength for the song of some future poet who will rise to give voice to unspeakable pleasure. They conjure the future. Even when they are wrong and blindly embrace one another, this future arrives nonetheless. It arrives in the form of a new human being, and out of this apparently arbitrary and accidental event, the law asserts itself that causes a resilient strong sperm to penetrate the egg cell moving toward it. Do not be distracted by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law. Those who live this secret falsely and badly (and there are many) lose it only for themselves and still unwittingly pass it on like an unopened letter. Don’t get confused by the multitude of names and the complicated nature of all of these cases. Perhaps everything falls under a great collective longing for maternity. The beauty of the virgin as a being “that (as you so nicely put it) hasn’t yet accomplished anything,” is the first tender stirring, preparation and fearful longing of maternity. The beauty of a mother is maternity that has found its calling, and in a woman of old age lives her tremendous remembrance. Even in man there is maternity, it seems to me, both physical and mental. His act of procreation is also a kind of birthing, and it is like giving birth when he creates from inner abundance. Perhaps the two genders are more closely related than we think.

The great renewal of the world may indeed happen when man and woman, freed from all misguided sentiments and false desires, will no longer seek out one another as opposites but come together as brother and sister, as neighbors, and ultimately as human beings. It will happen when men and women join together to seriously and patiently bear the heavy burden of the flesh that has been placed upon them. But for all of this, which may be possible for many people in the future, a solitary individual can lay a strong foundation with his own, steadier hands. This, dear Sir, is the reason why you should love your solitude and endure, and even celebrate the pain it causes you. You tell me that those close to you are far away: this means that around you space is beginning to open up. If everything that is close to you seems far away, then space already extends for you into a great distance, all the way to the stars. You should rejoice in this expansion of yourself; nobody can follow you there. But be kind to those you leave behind by being steady and calm in your dealings with them.

Do not torment them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or joy which they cannot understand. Find something basic and reliable that you have in common with them, and which does not necessarily have to change while you go through your transformations. Love them for the way they live life in a different form. Go easy on those who are afraid of the loneliness in which you have confidence, due to their advancing age. Avoid adding to the drama that always takes place between parents and children. It consumes a lot of the children’s strength and uses up the adults’ love which offers support and nourishment even when this love fails to understand. Don’t ask others for advice and don’t expect to be understood. Instead, believe in a love that is being safeguarded for you like an inheritance. Have faith that this love will be with you as a force and a blessing while you go very, very far! It is good that you are starting out in a profession that will allow you to become independent and completely self-reliant in every way. Wait patiently to determine whether your inner life feels constrained by this kind of work. I consider your job very difficult and very demanding since it is saddled with so many conventions that leave almost no room for a personal interpretation of its tasks. But even in these very alien conditions, your solitude will be home and haven for you. Out of this solitude you will be able to find all of your proper paths. My wishes are ready to accompany you on your journey, and I have confidence in you.


Rainer Maria Rilke


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