Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet

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by Rainer Maria Rilke
     
 

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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

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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 the "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.

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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)
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

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679642329
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/28/2001
Edition description:
1ST
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
240,915
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.56(h) x 0.54(d)

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 upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop 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.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“For this reason, my dear Sir, the only advice I have is this: to go into yourself and to examine the depths from which your life springs; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you have to write. Accept this answer as it is,without seeking to interpret it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then assume this fate and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking after the rewards that may come from outside. For he who creates must be a world of his own and find everything within himself and in the natural world that he has elected to follow. [. . .] Whatever happens, your life will find its own paths from that point on, and that they may be good, productive and far-reaching is something I wish for you more than I can say.” —Rainer Maria Rilke

“I cannot think of a better book to put into the hands of any young would-be poet, as an inspirational guide to poetry and to surviving as a poet in a hostile world.”
—Harry Fainlight, The Times (London)

“I read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet every day.”
—Lady Gaga

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.
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.

Read More

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