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Letters to a Young Poet

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Overview

Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet are arguably the most famous and beloved letters of the twentieth century. Written when the poet was himself still a young man, with most of his greatest work before him, they were addressed to a student who had sent Rilke some of his own writing, asking for advice on becoming a writer. The two never met, but over a period of several years Rilke wrote him these ten letters, which have been cherished by hundreds of thousands of readers for what Stephen Mitchell calls in his Foreword...
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Letters to a Young Poet

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Overview

Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet are arguably the most famous and beloved letters of the twentieth century. Written when the poet was himself still a young man, with most of his greatest work before him, they were addressed to a student who had sent Rilke some of his own writing, asking for advice on becoming a writer. The two never met, but over a period of several years Rilke wrote him these ten letters, which have been cherished by hundreds of thousands of readers for what Stephen Mitchell calls in his Foreword that "vibrant and deeply felt experience of life" that informs them. Eloquent and personal, Rilke's meditations on the creative process, the nature of love, the wisdom of children, and the importance of solitude offer a wealth of spiritual and practical guidance for anyone. At the same time, this collection, in Stephen Mitchell's definitive translation, reveals the thoughts and feelings of one of the greatest poets and most distinctive sensibilities of the twentieth century.

Written between 1903 and 1908 to a student who had sent Rilke his poems for evaluation, these ten letters--among the most famous and beloved of this century--reveal the deeply felt ideas about life and art that shaped the great poet's work. Two-color interior.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The common reader will be delighted by Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of that slim and beloved volume by Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet . . . the best yet."
Los Angeles Times
Booknews
This classic of sincerity and deepness, if you never got 'round to reading it, is composed of 10 letters written by one of the century's greatest poets to a young poet-admirer. Rilke offers no advice on technique but plenty on attitude and preparation for the poetic calling. Each short entry is preceded by an epigraph taken from the body of the letter. Here's an example of Rilke's general epistolary tone: "Beware of general themes. Cling to those that your everyday life offers you. Write about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful. Describe all that with fervent, quiet, and humble sincerity." In this age of Irony and Cynicism it just may be time to revisit Earnestness in this small, handsome volume fit for wandering and pondering. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Dana Gioia
If I could recommend only one book to a young writer, it would be Rilke's perpetually fresh and penetrating ,Letters to a Young Poet, especially in Mark Harman's lucid new translation, which so capably captures the original's radiant intimacy. This small but inexhaustible volume belongs on every writer's bookshelf.
Billy Collins
This fresh translation of Rilke's famous letters reminds us anew that Rilke is addressing not just his young correspondent but everyone, and that his advice is not only about how to write poems but how to live a deliberate, meaningful life. In these overly excited times, it is inspiring to listen to the patient counsel of this meditative man, this champion of solitude.
Daily Telegraph - John Banville
Letters to a Young Poet is one of Rilke's most popular books...well known to poets in their youth and an ideal handbook for beginning writers. Mark Harman's burnished, elegant new translation is the fifth English version, and likely to become the standard one...Above all, these letters give the lie to the idea of Rilke as hopelessly self-regarding and cut off from authentic, "ordinary" life. His tone may be elevated and his manner at times that of a dandy--he was elevated, he was a dandy--but the advice purveyed in these letters, and the observations and aperçus that they throw off, contain true wisdom, and are anything but platitudinous. Franz Kappus was a fortunate young man to have found such a correspondent, and we are fortunate in his good fortune.
Daily Telegraph

The perfect gift for any aspiring poet or, indeed, for anyone interested in good writing, is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, newly translated by Mark Harman. In this elegant little volume, Rilke writes to 19-year-old Franz Kappus about literature, life, and the poet's vocation with wisdom and penetrating insight.
— John Banville

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394741048
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/1986
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 236,639
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.89 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is considered one of the greatest poets who ever wrote in the German language. His most famous works are Sonnets to Orpheus, The Duino Elegies, Letters to a Young Poet, and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

His collected work is comprised of hundreds of other poems, essays, plays, and stories.

M. D. Herter Norton is a publisher and translator. Together with her husband William Warder Norton, she founded the publishing company W. W. Norton & Company. Her work as translator includes the translation of works by Rainer Marie Rilke.

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Read an Excerpt

Paris
February 17, 1903

Dear Sir,
Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, who life endures beside our own small, transitory life.

With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings or something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, "My Soul." There, something of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem "To Leopardi" a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet anything independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them, managed to make clear to me various fault that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are update when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you tostop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise you or help you—no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its root into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And is this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.


From the Paperback edition.

Copyright 2001 by Rainer Maria Rilke
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 36 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 23, 2012

    It Isn't Light Reading

    Good book but do not go into thinking its a quick non thinking light fare. It reminds me of Henry David Thoreau.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Poets of life

    This book is inspiring and motivating. I highly recomend every artist( writer,poet,painter,) read and apply the lessons to their own life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

    Cant even describe it

    Letters to a young Poet really makes you look at life in a different way.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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