RAINER MARIA RILKE
Langley & Sons, Ltd., The Euston Press, N.W.I
Translated by K. W. Maurer.
University College, London,
Gower Street, W. C. I.
To the memory of
a student of University College, London,
from 1936 to 1939,
who died on active service in 1941,
IT was in the late autumn of 1902—I was sitting under some century-old chestnut trees in the park of the Military Academy in Wiener-Neustadt reading a book. I was so engrossed in my reading that I hardly noticed that the only one of our masters who was not an officer, the learned kindly chaplain of the Academy, Horaček, had joined me. He took the volume out of my hand, considered the binding, and shook his head. "Rainer Maria Rilke's Poems"? he asked thoughtfully. Then he turned over the leaves here and there, scanned a few verses, looked thoughtfully into the distance, and finally nodded. "So young René Rilke has become a poet."
And I heard about the small, pale boy, whom his parents had sent more than fifteen years before to the military Unterrealschule in Sankt-Pölten, intending that he should afterwards become an officer. At that time Horaček had been working there as chaplain of the establishment, and he still remembered the boy of those days perfectly. He painted him as a quiet, earnest, extremely clever young fellow, who liked keeping to himself, put up patiently with the discipline of the boarding school and after his fourth year passed on with the others to the military Oberrealschule, which was in Mährisch-Weisskirchen. Then his constitution showed itself definitely not to be strong enough, so that his parents removed him from the school and let him continue his studies at home in Prague. Horaček could tell me nothing more of the course which his outward life had taken since then.
After all that, I think it is easy to understand that I decided at that very moment to send my efforts in poetry to Rainer Maria Rilke and to ask him for his verdict. I was not yet twenty years old and I was just on the threshold of a career which I felt to be directly opposed to my inclinations. From the author of "Mir zur Feier," if from anyone at all, I hoped for sympathetic understanding. And though I had not so intended, I came to write a letter with my verses, in which I opened my heart without reticence, as never before or since to another human being.
Many weeks passed before an answer came. The blue, sealed letter had a Paris post-mark and felt heavy in my hands; the envelope bore the same beautiful, clear handwriting as that in which the whole text from the first lines to the last had been written. That was the beginning of my regular correspondence with Rainer Marie Rilke, which continued till 1908 and then gradually came to an end, because my life drove me into the very paths from which the poet's warm, affectionate and moving concern had wished to preserve me.
But that is of no importance. Alone important are the ten letters which follow, important for the knowledge of the world, in which Rainer Maria Rilke lived and created, and to many human beings of to-day and to-morrow, who are growing and coming into being. When a great and exceptional man speaks, the insignificant must be silent.
FRANZ XAVER KAPPUS.
Berlin, June 1929.
17th February, 1903.
Your letter only reached me a few days ago. I should like to thank you for its great and touching confidence. I can do little more. I cannot go into the nature of your verses, for any intention to criticise is too foreign to me. Nothing can touch a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less happy misunderstandings. Things are not all so easy to grasp and to express as most people would have us believe; most events are inexpressible, and take place in a sphere that no word has ever entered. Most inexpressible of all are works of art, existences full of secrets whose life continues alongside ours, whilst ours is transitory.
Only when I have first drawn your attention to that fact, can I then tell you that your verses have no special nature of their own, yet show a quiet and concealed inclination towards the personal. I have that feeling most strongly in the last poem, "My Soul." There it is something of your own that is trying to find expression in words and melody. And in the beautiful poem, "To Leopardi," I think a kind of relationship with this great solitary man may be growing up. Yet your poems, even the last one and the one to Leopardi, are as yet nothing in themselves, nothing independent. Your kind letter which accompanied them does not fail to explain to me many deficiencies which I felt in reading your verses without being able to put a name to them.
You ask me if your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before me. You send them to journals. You compare them with other poems and you worry if certain editors refuse your efforts. Now, as you have given me permission to advise you, I beg you to give up all that. You are directing your thoughts outwards, and that above all is what you should not do at present. No one can advise and help you, no one. There is only one way. Withdraw into yourself. Explore the reason that bids you write, find out if it has spread out its roots in the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die, if writing should be denied to you. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, "Must I write?" Dig deep into yourself for an answer. And if this answer should be in the affirmative, if you can meet this solemn question with a simple strong "I must," then build up your life according to this necessity. Your life right down to its most indifferent and unimportant hour must be a token and a witness to this compulsion. Then approach nature. Try to express what you see and experience and love and lose as if you were the first man alive. Do not write love-poems. Avoid those forms which are too trite and commonplace: they are the hardest, for a great and mature power is needed to give of one's own where good and often brilliant traditions throng upon one. Therefore betake yourself from the usual themes to those which your everyday life offers you. Paint your sadnesses and your desires, your passing thoughts and your belief in some kind of beauty—paint all that with quiet and modest inward sincerity; and to express yourself use the things that surround you, the pictures of your dreams and the objects of your recollections. When your daily life seems barren, do not blame it; blame yourself rather and tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the creative worker knows no barrenness and no poor indifferent place. And even if you were in a prison, whose walls prevented all the bustle of the world from reaching your senses, even then would you not still have your childhood, that precious, kingly wealth, that treasure-house of memories? Turn your attention towards it. Try to recall the forgotten sensations of that distant past; your personality will strengthen itself, your loneliness will extend itself and become a dusky dwelling and the noise of others will pass by it far away. And when from this turning inwards, from this retreat into your own world verses come into being, then you will not think of asking anyone, whether they are good verses. Nor will you try to get journals interested in these works, for you will see in them your own loved and natural possession, a part and an expression of your life. A work of art is good, when it is born of necessity. In this question of its origin lies the criterion according to which it may be judged. There is no other. Therefore, dear Sir, I would give you no advice but this—to retire into yourself and sound the depths in which your life has its source; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it just as it is, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps it will be shown that you are called to be an artist. Then take your destiny upon your shoulders and bear it with its burden and its greatness without ever asking for the reward which might come from without. For the creator must be a world in himself and must find everything in himself and in nature, to whom he has attached himself.
But perhaps even after this retreat into yourself and into your solitude you will have to renounce the idea of becoming a poet. As I said, the feeling that one could live without writing is enough to prove that one should not write at all. But even so, this contemplation which I beg you to make will not have been in vain. In any case your life will thereafter find out its own course, and I hope for you more sincerely than I can say that it may be good, rich and wide.
What else am I to say to you? I think I have given every point the right emphasis; finally I should like to give you just this one other piece of advice, to follow quietly and earnestly the course of your development. You cannot disturb it more drastically than if you direct your thoughts outwards and expect from without the answer to questions which probably only your innermost feeling in the quietest hour of your life can answer.
It was a joy to me to find the name of Professor Horaček in your letter. For that lovable scholar I have cherished a respect and a gratitude which lasts through the passing years. Will you please tell him of my feeling for him. It is very kind of him to remember me still and I know how to value it.
At the same time I give you back again the verses which you were kind enough to entrust to me, and again I thank you for your great and affectionate confidence. By this sincere answer, which I have given to the best of my ability, I have tried to make myself a little worthier of it than, as a stranger, I really am.
With all respect and sympathy,
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Viareggio, near Pisa, Italy,
5th April, 1903.
You must forgive me, my dear Sir, that it is only to-day that I remember with gratitude your letter of the 24th February. I was unwell the whole time, not exactly ill, but suffering from a kind of influenza-weakness, which rendered me incapable of doing anything. Finally, as my health would not change at all, I came to this salutary southern sea, which helped me once before, but I am not yet returned to health and I find writing difficult, so you must take these few lines for more.
Naturally you must know that every letter of yours will always delight me; you must only be indulgent about the answer, which will probably often leave you empty-handed; for at bottom, and just in the profoundest and most important matters, we are inexpressibly alone, and for one man to be able to advise or even help another, many things must happen, many things must succeed, a whole constellation of circumstances must converge, for it once to turn out happily.
I should only like to say two things to you to-day. First:
Do not allow yourself to be mastered by irony, especially in uncreative moments. In creative moments try to make use of it, but only as one more means to grasp hold of life. If its use is pure, it is itself pure also, and one must not be ashamed of it. If you feel that you are too familiar with it, if you are afraid of your growing familiarity with it, then turn to great and solemn objects, before which it becomes small and helpless. Seek the depth of things, for irony never penetrates there—and when you go thus to the edge of what is great, find out at the same time whether this form of comprehension arises from a necessity of your being. Under the influence of solemn events, it will either fall away from you, if it is a thing of chance, or, if it really belongs to you and is innate in you, it will grow stronger and become a serious tool and take its place among the means by which you will have to build up your art.
And the second thing I should like to tell you to-day is this:
Of all my books there are only a few which are indispensable to me, and two of them are actually always among my belongings, wherever I am. I have them with me here, too, the Bible and the books of the great Danish poet, Jens Peter Jacobsen. I wonder whether you know his works. You can easily get hold of them, for some of them have appeared in a very good translation in "Reclams Universal Bibliothek." Get hold of the little volume, "Six Stories," by J. P. Jacobsen and of his novel, "Niels Lyhne," and in the first little volume begin the first story which is called "Mogens." A world will come over you, a happiness, a wealth, a world of inconceivable greatness. Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all, love them. This love will be repaid a thousandfold, and, whatever may become of your life will, I am convinced of it, run through the fabric of your being as one of the most important among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.
If I am to speak of the sources from which I learnt anything concerning the nature of creative work, concerning its depths and its everlastingness, there are only two names which I can mention: that of Jacobsen, that great, great poet, and that of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, who has not his equal among all the artists who are living to-day.
And may happy fulfilment in everything attend upon the paths of your life.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Viareggio, near Pisa, Italy,
23rd April, 1903.
Your Easter letter, my dear Sir, has caused me much joy; for it spoke much good of you, and the manner in which you spoke of Jacobsen's great and lovely art, showed me that I have not been wrong in leading your life and its many questions to this well of plenteousness.
Now "Niels Lyhne" will disclose itself to you, a book of the things of grandeur and of depth. The more one reads it, the more it seems to contain everything from the most delicate fragrances of life to the full and grand flavours of its hardest fruits. In it there is nothing that has not been understood, grasped, experienced and recognised in the vibrating echoes of the memory; no experience has been too small, the slightest occurrence unfolds itself like a destiny. Destiny itself is like a wonderful broad web in which each thread is pulled by an infinitely tender hand and is laid by the side of another and held up and borne along by hundreds of others. You will experience the happiness of reading this book for the first time, and will pass through countless surprises, as in a new dream. But I can tell you that later, too, one always remains the same wonderer when going through these books, and that they lose nothing of the wonderful force and relinquish nothing of the fabulousness with which they overwhelm the reader the first time.
The enjoyment of them and the gratitude only grows ever greater, and one's way of looking at things becomes somehow better and simpler, one's belief in life deeper and one's life itself more blessed and more significant.
Later you must read the wonderful book of the fate and the yearning of "Marie Grubbe," and Jacobsen's letters and journal and fragments, and finally his verses, which though only moderately translated live in unending music. [For that purpose I should advise you to buy at your convenience the beautiful edition of Jacobsen's collected works, which contains all that. It appeared in Leipzig in three volumes in a good translation at Eugen Diederichs and, I think, only costs 5 or 6 marks a volume.]
In your opinion about "Here should roses stand . . ." —that work so incomparable in its delicacy and form—you are of course quite, quite indisputably in the right against the man who wrote the introduction. And I may as well make this request of you here: read as few works of aesthetic criticism as possible—there are in them either partisan opinions which have become petrified and meaningless in their lifeless obduracy, or else a clever play of words, with which to-day one view finds favour and tomorrow the opposite. Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and nothing can reach them so little as criticism. Only love can grasp them and keep hold of them and be just to them. Always trust yourself and your own feelings as opposed to any such analysis, review or introduction; if you should be wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and in time to new realisations. Allow your judgments their own quiet, undisturbed development, which like all progress must come from deep within you and cannot be forced or hastened by anything. The whole thing is to carry the full time and then give birth; to let every impression and every germ of a feeling consummate itself entirely within itself, in that which is dark, inexpressible, unconscious and unattainable by your own intelligence, and to await the hour of the delivery of a new clearness of vision. That alone is to live an artistic life, in understanding, as in creating.
In that there is no measuring with time; no year is of any value and ten years are as nothing. To be an artist is this: not to count or to reckon: to ripen like a tree which does not force its sap, but in the storms of spring stands confident without being afraid that afterwards no summer may come. The summer comes all right. But it only comes to the patient, to those who are there as carefree and quiet and immense, as if eternity lay before them. Daily I learn, learn it through my sufferings [to which I am grateful] that patience is everything.
Richard Dehmel: His books—and I may say the same thing of the man, whom I know slightly—have the following effect upon me, that, when I have found one of his beautiful pages, I am always afraid of the next, which may upset everything again and pervert the lovable into the unworthy. You characterised him very well with the expression: "sensual life and sensual poetry"—and it is undoubtedly a fact that artistic experience has such an inconceivably close connection with sexual experience, with its pain and its desire, that the two phenomena are actually nothing but two different forms of one and the same yearning and bliss. And if instead of sensuality one could say sex—sex in its great, wide and pure sense, free from the suspicion cast upon it by errors of the Church—then his art would be very great and infinitely important. His poetical power is great and strong as a primeval impulse. It has its own independent rhythms, and breaks forth from him like a stream from the mountains.
But I think that this power is not always quite sincere and without pose [this is actually one of the severest tests for the creator: he must always remain unconscious, without an idea of his greatest qualities, if he does not want to rob them of their naiveté and their virginity!] And then, when rushing through his being it comes to the sexual, it finds there a man who is not so utterly pure as it needed him to be. Here is a sexual world that is not quite ripe and pure, one that is not human enough but only male, one that is sensuality, intoxication and restlessness, burdened with the old prejudices and insolence with which man has deformed and burdened love. Because he only loves as a man and not as a human being, therefore there is in his sexual sensibility a narrowness, an ostensible wildness and hate, something transient and mortal, which detracts from his art and renders it ambiguous and undecided. It is not without defect, it is marked by time and by passion and little of it will last and endure. [But most art is like that!] But in spite of that, one can get deep enjoyment, from what is great in it, and must only take care not to lose oneself in it and not to become an adherent of Dehmel's world, which is so infinitely frightened, full of adultery and confusion, and far removed from those our actual destinies, which cause more suffering than these transient troubles, but at the same time give more opportunity for greatness and more courage for eternity.
Lastly as far as concerns my books, I should have liked best of all to send you all those that could give you any pleasure, but I am very poor, and, once they have been published, my books no longer belong to me. I cannot myself buy them, and, as I should so often like, give them to those who would handle them with affection.
So I have written down for you on a scrap of paper the titles and publishers of my latest books—of the most recent only—in all I have published about 12 or 15—and I must leave it to you, dear Sir, to order some of them for yourself at your own convenience.
I like to know that my books are in your hands.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Worpswede, near Bremen,
16th July, 1903.
I left Paris about ten days ago, thoroughly unwell and tired, and travelled to a great northerly plain, whose expanse, quiet and sky are to return me to health again. But I met with a long period of rain, which is trying to-day for the first time to clear up over the restlessly storm-driven land. I make use of this first moment of brightness to greet you, dear Sir.
My very dear Herr Kappus, I have left a letter of yours long unanswered—not that I had forgotten it; on the contrary it was of the kind which one reads again, when one finds it among one's letters, and in it I seemed to get to know you, as it were, most intimately. It was the letter of the 2nd May and I am sure that you remember it. When I read it as now in the great stillness of these distant parts, then your beautiful concern for life moves me, moves me even more than it moved me in Paris, where everything strikes the ear differently and fades away before the excessive, the earth-shaking noise. Here, where a mighty land is about me, here I feel that no human being can answer for you those questions and feelings which have a life of their own in the depth of your heart, for even the best use words wrongly when they want to give them the most delicate and almost inexpressible meaning. But, for all that, I think that you cannot remain without a solution, if you attach yourself to objects like those with which my eyes are now regaling themselves. If you attach yourself to Nature, to the simple and small in her, which hardly anyone sees, but which can so unexpectedly turn into the great and the immeasurable, if you have this love for what is slight and try quite simply as a servant to win the confidence of what appears to you poor, then everything will become easier for you, more uniform and somehow more reconciling, not perhaps in the understanding, which holds back in amazement, but in your innermost consciousness, watchfulness and knowledge. You are so young, all beginning is so far in front of you, and I should like to beg you earnestly to have patience with all unsolved problems in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, or books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you, because you could not live them. That is the point, to live everything. Now you must live your problems. And perhaps gradually, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer some distant day. Perhaps you actually have in you the possibility of moulding and shaping, as a particularly blessed and pure form of life; train yourself in it—but take what comes in complete trust, and, as long as it comes from your own will, from some need or other of your inner self, then take it for itself and hate nothing. Sex is difficult, yes, it is difficult. But the things with which we have been charged are difficult, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If only you realise that and manage out of yourself, out of your predisposition and nature, out of your experience and your childhood and your own resources, to win a relation to sex entirely your own and free from the influence of convention or custom, then you must no longer fear to lose yourself and to become unworthy of your best possession.
Bodily pleasure is an experience of the senses, exactly like pure seeing or the pure feeling with which a lovely fruit fills the tongue; it is a great and infinite experience which is given to us, a knowledge of the world, the fulfilment and glory of all knowledge. And it is not our receiving it that is bad; what is bad is that nearly everybody misuses and squanders this experience and, instead of storing it up for supreme moments, uses it as an allurement and a distraction at the tired moments of his life. Eating, too, has been turned by mankind into something else; want on the one hand and excess on the other have rendered turbid the clearness of this need, and all the deep and simple necessities in which life renews itself have in like manner become turbid. But the individual man can make them clear for himself and live clearly [or if not the individual who is too dependent, at any rate the solitary man]. He can remember that all beauty in animals and plants is a quiet and lasting form of love and longing, and he can see the animal, as he sees the plant, patiently and willingly synthesising and increasing itself and growing net out of physical desire or physical pain, but bending to necessities which are greater than desire and pain and mightier than will and resistance. Oh, that mankind would receive more humbly this secret, of which the earth right down to its smallest things is full, and would bear it and endure it more seriously, and would feel how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it so lightly! If he would only show respect towards his fruitfulness, which is only one and the same whether its manifestation be spiritual or physical; for spiritual creation, too, springs originally from the physical, is of one essence with it, and is simply like a more delicate, more enraptured, and more eternal, repetition of bodily pleasure. "The thought of being a creative worker, of begetting, of shaping" is nothing without its great and lasting confirmation and realisation in the world, nothing without the thousand-fold assent of animals and things—and only for this reason is its enjoyment so indescribably lovely and rich, that it is full of inherited recollections of the begetting and bearing of millions. In one thought of a creative worker a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with loftiness and sublimity. And those, who come together in the night and are twined in quivering pleasure, are performing a serious work and are heaping up sweetness, depth and force for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to express inexpressible ecstasies. Therewith they call to the future, and if ever they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new man arises, and on the ground of Chance, which here appears ratified, there awakes the law by which the more resistant and more powerful seed makes its way to the open cell which advances towards it. Do not be led astray by the surface of things; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live this secret falsely and badly—and they are very many—lose it only for themselves and still hand it on unconsciously like a closed letter. Do not be led astray by multiplicity of names and the complicatedness of occasions. Perhaps there exists over everything a mighty motherhood in the form of universal yearning. The beauty of the young virgin woman, a being who, as you so beautifully put it, has not yet performed her task, is motherhood, which has a presentiment of itself and prepares itself, is anxious and yearns. The mother's beauty is serving motherhood, and in the old woman it is a mighty recollection. And I think that there is motherhood in man too, bodily and spiritual motherhood; his begetting is a kind of bearing, too, and bearing it is, when he creates out of his innermost abundance. Perhaps the sexes are more related to each other than is supposed, and the great renovation of the world will perhaps consist in this, that men and women, freed from all confused feelings and aversion, will seek each other out not as contrasts but as brothers and sisters and as neighbours, and will work together as human beings to bear seriously and patiently in common this heavy burden of sex which has been laid upon them.
But everything that will perhaps some time be possible for many, the solitary man can already prepare and build up with his hands, which err less than others. Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude, and bear the pain which it causes you with euphonious lament. For you say that those who are near to you are far away, and that shows that your outlook is beginning to be wide. And if your foreground is far from you, then your horizon is already beneath the stars and very great. Rejoice in your growth, into which you can take no one with you, and be good to those who remain behind. Be assured and peaceful in their presence, do not torture them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or your joy, which they could not comprehend. Seek some kind of simple, true communion with them, which need not change as you yourself become ever different. Love in them life in a form unknown to you, and be indulgent towards those who, as they grow old, fear that solitude in which you have confidence. Avoid adding new material to that strained drama which- is ever played between parents and children. It uses up much of the children's strength and consumes the love of the parents, which is always active and warm, even if it does not understand. Do not ask them for any advice and reckon on no understanding from them, but believe in a love which is stored up for you as a heritage, and have confidence that in this love there is a force and a blessedness, which you need never leave behind even in your furthest journeys.
It is a good thing that you are now entering upon a career which makes you independent and sets you entirely on your own feet in every sense. Wait patiently to see whether your innermost life feels itself limited by the nature of this career. I consider that it is very difficult and makes very many claims upon one, for it is burdened with great conventions and leaves hardly any room for a personal interpretation of its duties. But your loneliness will be a support and a home to you in the midst of unsympathetic surroundings, and out of it you will find all the ways of your life. All my good wishes are ready to accompany you, and my confidence is with you.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
My dear Sir,
I received your letter of the 29th August at Florence, and it is only after two months that I now speak to you about it. Please forgive me this tardiness, but I do not like writing letters on a journey, because for letter-writing I need something more than the necessary tools—a little quiet and solitude and a not too unfriendly hour.
We reached Rome about six weeks ago, at a time when it was still the empty, hot Rome notorious for its fever, and this circumstance, together with other practical difficulties in our arrangements, helped to bring it about that our restlessness would have no end and that the foreign country weighed upon us with the burden of homelessness. I must add, that, if one does not know it, Rome has an oppressive and saddening effect during the first days because of the lifeless and unhealthy atmosphere of museums which it exhales, because of the numberless monuments of the past, which have been hauled out and laboriously restored, and from which a tiny present draws nourishment, and because of the dreadful over-estimation of these deformed and ruined objects, which is supported by philologists and copied by the conventional Italian tourists; though at bottom they are nothing more than the chance remains of another epoch and of a life which is not, and should not be, ours. Finally, after weeks of daily self-defence, though still a little bewildered, one comes to oneself again and one says, "No, there is no more beauty here than elsewhere, and all these objects, which generation after generation has continued to admire and which the hands of jobbers have repaired and restored, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value"; but there is plenty of beauty here, because there is plenty of beauty everywhere. Waters infinitely full of life flow over the old aqueducts into the great town. They dance in its many squares over white stone bores and spread themselves out in broad roomy basins. They murmur by day and lift up their murmuring by night, which is vast here and starry and soft with breezes. And there are gardens here, unforgettable avenues and staircases, staircases thought out by Michelangelo, staircases which are built in the likeness of downward-gliding waters—the steps in their broad descent-giving birth one to the other like waves. By such impressions does one pull oneself together and win oneself back from all the claims of the many things which talk and chatter here—and how talkative they are!—and one learns slowly to recognise the few things in which there dwells eternity, which one can love, and solitude, in which one can quietly share.
I am still living in the town on the Capitol, not far from the most beautiful image of a horseman which has remained preserved for us from Roman art—that of Marcus Aurelius. But in a few weeks I shall move into a quiet and simple room, an old gallery lying deep in the heart of a large park, hidden from the town with its noise and incidents. I shall live there the whole winter and rejoice in the great quietness, from which I am hoping for the gift of good and profitable hours.
From there, where I shall be more at home, I will write you a longer letter, in which I will also talk about your writing. To-day I must only tell you what I have perhaps been wrong in not telling you earlier, that the book whose despatch you announced in your letter, and which should contain some of your work, has not arrived here. Did it go back to you from Worpswede? Because one is not permitted to forward parcels to foreign countries. That is the best thing that can have happened to it, and I would be glad to hear it confirmed. I hope it is not a question of loss, which is unfortunately far from being an exceptional occurrence with the Italian postal system.
I should have been glad to receive this book, as indeed anything which gives an indication of yourself, and if you entrust to me any verses that have come into being in the meantime, I will read them as well and truly from my heart as I can.
With good wishes and greetings,
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
23rd December, 1903.
My dear Herr Kappus,
You shall not be without a greeting from me at Christmastime, when in the midst of this festivity your loneliness weighs more heavily upon you than usually. But when you notice that it is great, rejoice in it; for you must ask yourself what that loneliness would be, that had not greatness; there is only one kind of loneliness. It is great and not easy to bear, and there comes to nearly everyone the hours, when he would gladly exchange it for any intercourse however common-place and cheap, for the semblance of a slight understanding with the next best, with the most unworthy. . . . But perhaps those are just the hours when the loneliness grows; for its growing is as painful as the growing of boys and as sad as the beginning of spring. But that should not confuse you. It is still only loneliness that is necessary—great inner loneliness. To retreat into oneself and meet nobody for hours on end—that is what one must be able to attain. To be alone, as one was alone as a child, when the grown-ups walked about involved in things which seemed great and important, because big people looked so busy and because one could comprehend nothing of their doings. And when one day one realises that their affairs are paltry, their professions benumbed and no longer connected with life, why not still like a child look upon them as something strange from without the depth of one's own world, regarding them from the immunity of one's own loneliness, which is itself work, position and profession? Why desire to exchange a child's wise incomprehension for self-defence and disdain? Incomprehension is loneliness, but self-defence and disdain are participation in that from which one is trying to separate oneself by these means.
Consider the world which you carry within you, and call this consideration what you like; let it be recollections of your own childhood or yearning for your own future—only be attentive to that which rises up within you, and place it above everything that you see around you. The events of your innermost self are worthy of your whole love. You must somehow work at them and not lose too much time or too much spirit in elucidating your position with regard to mankind. Who, pray, says that you have any such position? I know that your profession is hard and full of opposition to yourself; I foresaw your complaint and knew that it would come. Now that it has come I cannot soothe it. I can only advise you to consider whether all professions are not like that, full of claims, full of enmity for the individual, and at the same time fully imbued with the hate of those who submit dumbly and surlily to monotonous duty. The position in which you must now live is no more heavily burdened with conventions, prejudices and errors than other positions, and if there are some which carry with them a greater outward freedom, there is none that in itself is wide and spacious and connected with the great things of which real life consists. Only the individual, who is lonely, is like a thing placed under obscure laws, and whether a man goes out into the morning as it rises, or looks out into the eventful evening, and feels what is happening there, all position falls away from him as from a dead man, although he is standing in the middle of real life. What you are experiencing now as an officer, you would have felt in like manner in any of the existing professions, and even if apart from any position, you had sought easy and independent contact with society alone, this feeling of constraint would still not have been spared you. Everywhere it is the same, but that is no reason for anxiety or sadness. If there is no intercourse between you and mankind, try to get nearer to "things." They will not desert you; there are still the nights and the winds which blow through the trees and over many lands; with "things" and with animals, everything is still full of happenings in which you can take part; and children are still the same as you were as a child, so sad and so happy—and when you think of your childhood, then you live again among them, among the lonely children, and the grown-ups are nothing and their dignity has no value.
And if it makes you anxious and torments you to think of childhood and the simplicity-and quiet which goes together with it, because you can no longer believe in God, who is always appearing in it, then ask yourself if you have really lost God. Is it not much more, that you have never possessed Him? For when should that have been? Do you believe that children can contain Him, whom men can only bear with labour and the burden of whom weighs down the grey-haired? Do you believe that he, who possesses Him, could lose Him like a little stone, or do you not rather think with me that he who had Him, could only be lost by Him? But if you come to realise, that He did not exist in your childhood, nor beforehand; if you suspect that Christ was deceived by his yearning and Mohammed betrayed by his pride—if you feel with horror, that now in this hour in which we speak of Him He does not exist—what entitles you then to regret as a dead man Him who never existed, and to seek Him as if He had been lost?
Why do you not think that He is He who is coming, who from eternity has been at hand, the being of the future, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from putting His birth into the times of the future and living your life as a painful but beautiful day in the history of a mighty pregnancy? For do you not see that everything that happens is ever beginning, and would it not be His beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful? If He is the most complete, must not smaller things exist before Him, so that He can choose from plenteousness and superfluity? Must He not be the last in order to grasp everything to Himself? And what meaning would our lives have, if He for whom we are longing had already been?
As the bees bring together their honey, so do we take the sweetest from everything and build Him. Even with what is slight and unpretentious, as long as it comes to pass out of love, we begin; with work and with rest after work, with a silence of a little lovely joy, with everything that we do without participation or followers, we begin to form Him, whom we shall no more experience than our forefathers could experience us. Yet they are in us, those long-departed, as potentialities, as a burden upon our fate, as blood that flows murmuring in us, and as a countenance, that rises from out of the depths of time.
Is there anything that can take from you this hope someday to be in Him, at any rate in the furthest and uttermost part of Him?
Celebrate Christmas in this holy feeling, that perhaps He needs this very anxiety for life from you, in order to begin. These very days of your transition, when everything in you is working at Him, are perhaps just the same as those when as a child you worked breathlessly at Him. Be patient and without vexation, and remember that the least we can do is not to make His coming into being more difficult for Him than the earth makes it for the spring, when it wishes to come.
Be joyful and of good hope,
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
14th May, 1904.
My dear Herr Kappus,
It is a long time since I received your last letter, but do not hold that against me. First work, then troubles and finally ill-health, have been keeping me from this answer, which, as I wished it, was to come to you from good peaceful days. Now I feel somewhat better—here, too, I was affected by the beginning of spring with its evil, ill-humoured transitions—and now I manage, dear Herr Kappus, to greet you, as I am so heartily glad to do, and to tell you to the best of my ability one or two things concerning your letter.
You see, I have copied out your sonnet, because I considered it to be beautiful and simple and born in the form in which it runs with so much quiet grace. It is the best of your verses that I have been permitted to read. And now I give you that copy, because I know that it is important and makes for new experience to find one's own work again in someone else's hand-writing. Read the verses as if they were someone else's, and you will feel in your innermost being how utterly they are your own.
It has been a joy to me to read, again and again, this sonnet and your letter. I thank you for both of them.
And you must not be led astray in your loneliness, because there is something in you that desires to come out of you. If you think of it quietly and use it as an instrument, this very desire will help you to extend your loneliness over the broad lands. With the help of conventions, people have solved all problems according to what is easy and according to the easiest side of what is easy, but it is clear that we must attach ourselves to what is difficult. All living things attach themselves to it, everything in nature grows and defends itself after its manner and is an entity in itself, and strives to be so at any price and against all resistance. We know little, but that we must attach ourselves to what is difficult is a certainty that never deserts us. It is good to be lonely, for loneliness is difficult. The fact that a thing is difficult must be for us the more reason for doing it.
To love, too, is good, for love is difficult. Loving between human being and human being, that is perhaps the most difficult thing with which we have been charged, the extreme possibility, the last test and trial, the work for which all other work is but preparation. Wherefore young people, who are beginners in everything, do not yet know how to love: they must learn. With their whole being, with all their strength collected about their lonely, timid, upward straining hearts they must learn to love. Apprenticeship always a long time of seclusion, and so love, too, is for a long time right far into life, just loneliness, increased and deepened solitude for him who loves. Love is not at first anything that can be called merging or surrender or union with another, for what would the union be of what is unclean, unready, and still subordinate? It is an exalted occasion for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become a world, to become a world in himself for another's sake; it is a great and even arrogant claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to what is far. Only in this sense, as a duty to work at themselves ["to hearken and to hammer day and night"] should young people use the love that is given to them. Surrender and sacrifice and every kind of fusion is not for them, who must save up and collect a long, long time yet; it is that which comes at last, that perhaps, for which a life-time is still hardly sufficient.
But it is in this that young people go so often and so badly astray. It is in their nature to have no patience, so they throw themselves together when love comes over them, and spend themselves just as they are in all their disorder, confusion and perplexity. What is to happen then? What is life to do with the heaps of half-battered life, which they call their fusion, and which, if possible, they would gladly call their happiness and their future? Each one loses himself for the other's sake and loses the other, too, and many others who wanted to come afterwards. And each loses the immensity of his possibilities, and exchanges the coming and going of delicate things full of portent for a fruitless perplexity, of which nothing more can come; nothing but a little nausea, disappointment, poverty and flight into one of the many conventions which have been set up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous of paths. No sphere of human experience is so well provided with conventions as this. Life-belts of the most different devices are there, boats and air-bladders. The conception of society has been able to create all kinds of refuges, for, as it was inclined to take the life of love as a pleasure, it had to make it easy, cheap, secure and safe, as public pleasures always are.
It is true that many young men, who have a false love—that is to say one that surrenders itself and is not lonely—and that is where the average will always remain—feel the oppression of a transgression and want to make the circumstance in which they find themselves capable of life and fruitful after their own personal manner. For nature tells them that the problems of love are less than anything else of importance, capable of a public solution according to some convention or other, that there are problems, intimate problems between one human being and another, which in each case need a new, a particular and a personal answer. But having already thrown themselves together, they no longer recognise any boundaries or any distinction between each other, and therefore have no longer any possessions of their own, so how should they be able, out of their own selves, out of the depth of their loneliness, to find a way out?
They act in common helplessness, and, even if with the best intention they want to avoid the convention—perhaps marriage—which opens itself to them, they fall into the clutches of another conventional solution, which may be less public, but which is just as deadly; that is all that surrounds them far and wide—convention; for, when it is a question of a troubled union which has been formed early, every treatment is conventional; every situation, to which such confusion leads, has its convention, however unusual, that is to say, however immoral in the ordinary sense of the word it may be; yes, even separation would then be a conventional step, an impersonal and chance decision without force and without fruit.
He, who considers it seriously, finds that as for death, which is difficult, so for love, which is difficult, too, no explanation or solution, no hint or path has yet been found out; and for these two charges, which we carry covered upand hand on afterwards without opening them, no common rule based on an agreement can possibly be discovered. But in proportion as we begin to try to live as individuals, so will these great things come nearer to meet us as individuals. The claims which the difficult task of love lays upon our development are beyond the possibilities of our life, and as beginners we are not yet equal to them. But if we endure and take this love upon ourselves as a burden and apprenticeship instead of losing ourselves in all the easy and thoughtless play, behind which men have hidden themselves in the presence of the most serious of the serious things of their existence, then those, who come long after us, will perhaps feel the effects of a little progress and a little alteration; which would be a great deal.
We are actually the first to come to the point of considering objectively and without prejudice the relationship of one individual human being to another, and in our attempts to live such a relationship we have no model before us, and yet there has already come to pass much in the course of time to help us in our timid beginnings.
In their new personal development the girl and the woman will only be for a short time imitations of the good and bad manners of man and reiterations of man's professions. After the uncertainty of this transition it will appear that women have passed through those many, often ridiculous, changes of disguise, only to free themselves from the disturbing influence of the other sex. For women, in whom life tarries and dwells in a more incommunicable, fruitful and confident form, must at bottom have become richer beings, more ideally human beings than fundamentally easy-going man, who is not drawn down beneath the surface of life by the difficulty of bearing bodily fruit, and who arrogantly and hastily undervalues what he means to love. When this humanity of woman, borne to the full in pain and humiliation, has stripped off in the course of the changes of its outward position the old convention of simple feminine weakness, it will come to light, and man, who cannot yet feel it coming, will be surprised and smitten by it. One day—a day of which trustworthy signs are already speaking and shining forth especially in northern lands—one day that girl and woman will exist, whose name will no longer mean simply a contrast to what is masculine, but something for itself, something that will not make one think of any supplement or limit, but only of life and existence—the feminine human beings.
This advance, at first very much against the will of man who has been overtaken—will alter the experience of love, which is now full of error, will change it radically and form it into a relationship, no longer between man and woman, but between human being and human being. And this more human love, which will be carried out with infinite consideration and gentleness and will be good and clean in its tyings and untyings, will be like that love which we are straining and toiling to prepare, the love which consists in this, that two lonely beings protect one another, border upon one another and greet one another.
Just this much more: do not think that that great love, which was entrusted to you as a boy, has been lost. Can you tell, whether great and good wishes did not ripen within you at that time and resolutions on which you still live to-day? I believe that that love lives so strongly and powerfully in your memory because it was your first deep solitude and the first inner work which you did at your own life. All good wishes to you, dear Herr Kappus!
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Borgeby Gĺrd, Flădie, Sweden,
12th August, 1904.
I should like to talk to you again for a little while, though I can say hardly anything that will be helpful and but little that will be useful. You have had many great sorrows, which have passed. And you say that this their passing, too, was difficult and discordant for you. But I beg you to consider whether these griefs have not rather gone right through you? Whether there has not been much change within you; whether, while you were sad, you did not alter in some point or other of your being? Only those sorrows are dangerous and bad which one carries with one to the company of other men in order to drown them. Like illnesses, which are superficially and badly treated, they only retreat into the background and break out again after a short interval worse than ever. They collect in one's innermost being and are life, unlived, rejected, lost life of which one can die. If it were possible for us to see a little further than our knowledge can reach, to see out a little farther over the outworks of our surmising, we should perhaps bear our griefs with greater confidence than our joys. For they are the moments when something new, something unknown enters into us. Our feelings are dumb with embarrassed shyness and everything in us retreats into the background. A stillness grows up, and the new thing, that nobody knows, stands in the middle of it and is silent.
I believe that nearly all our griefs are moments of suspense, which we experience as paralysis, because we can no longer hear our estranged feelings living. Because we are alone with that foreign thing, which has entered into us; because everything in which we have confidence and to which we are accustomed is for a moment taken away from us; because we are in the midst of a state of transition, in which we cannot remain. The grief, too, passes. The new thing in us, that which has been added to us, has entered into our heart and penetrated to its innermost chamber, and is no longer there even—it is already in our blood. We do not experience what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing had happened, and yet we have changed just as a house changes into which a guest has entered. We cannot say who has come and perhaps we shall never know, but there are many signs to assure us that the future enters into us in this way, so as to transform itself in us long before it happens. And this is why it is so important to be alone and attentive, when one is sad; because the apparently eventless and motionless moment, when our future enters into us, is so much nearer to life than that other manifestly chance point of time, when it actually happens to us as if from without. The quieter, the more patient, the more open we are in our grief, the deeper and the more unerringly does the new thing enter into us, the better do we make it our own, and the more does it become our fate; and when some day it happens [that is to say, when it passes out of us to others], we will feel ourselves in our innermost being related and near to it. And that is necessary. It is necessary—and this is the direction that our development gradually takes—that nothing strange to us should fall to our lot, but only that which has been in us for a long time. Men have already had to change their conceptions of many processes, and they will gradually come to realise that what we call fate comes out of human beings themselves and does not come upon them from without. It is only because so many did not absorb their fate while it lived in them, and did not make it into part of themselves, that they did not recognise what was coming out of them. It was so strange to them, that in their confused terror, they thought it must just that moment have come upon them, for they could take their oath that they have never found anything similar to it in themselves. Even as men long deceived themselves over the movement of the sun, so are they still deceiving themselves over the movement of what is to come. The future stands fast, Herr Kappus, but we are moving in infinite space. How should we not find it difficult?
And if we speak once more of loneliness, it becomes even clearer that that is not a thing which one can choose or reject. We are lonely. One can deceive oneself over it and behave as if it were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realise that we are lonely and candidly to make that realisation our starting point. It is, of course, certain to make us giddy; for all the points upon which our eyes used to rest are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near to us, and that which is distant is infinitely distant. A man who had been transported from his room, with hardly any preparation or transition, to the peak of a great mountain, would be bound to have a similar feeling, a feeling of insecurity without parallel, a feeling of abandonment to nameless powers would almost annihilate him. He would imagine that he was falling or would believe that he had been hurled out into space or that he had burst asunder into a thousand fragments. What monstrous lies his brain would have to invent in order to come up with the situation of his senses and explain it! In like manner do all distances and all measures alter for him who becomes lonely. Of these changes many may happen suddenly, and then as with the man on the mountain-top, there arise strange fancies and unusual feelings, which seem to become greater than he can bear. But it is necessary for us to experience that, too. We must accept existence as far as ever it is possible. Everything, even the most unheard of things, must be possible in it. That is in fact the only kind of courage that is demanded of us—to be courageous in face of the strangest, the most astounding and the most inexplicable thing that can confront us. The fact that mankind has been cowardly in this sense has done infinite harm to life, for the experiences which men call "phenomena," the so-called "world of spirits," death—all these things that are so closely related to us, have been so thoroughly crowded out of life by man's daily self-defence, that the senses with which we could grasp them have become stunted. Let us not speak of God. But the anxiety men feel before the inexplicable has not only impoverished the existence of the individual. Through it the relations of human being to human being have been limited, lifted as it were from a river-bed of infinite possibilities on to a fallow bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not only laziness that brings it about that human relationships repeat themselves from one occasion to the next with such unspeakable monotony and staleness, but it is also shyness of any new experience whose end cannot be foreseen, to which men do not think they are equal. But only he who is prepared for everything and does not exclude anything, even the most enigmatical, will live his relationships with another as something really living and with himself get right to the bottom of his own existence. For, if we think of this existence of the individual as a room—be it large or small—it is evident that most people only get to know a corner of their room, a corner by the window, a strip on which they walk up or down. In this way they have a certain security: yet far more human is that perilous insecurity which drives the prisoners in Poe's stories to take hold of the shapes of their fearful prison and not to be strangers unfamiliar with the unspeakable horrors of their sojourn there. But we are not prisoners, no traps or snares are set around us and there is nothing that should frighten us or torment us. We have been sent into life as being the element to which we most nearly correspond, and, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation to this life, we have become so like it that, when we stay still, through a happy mimicry we are hardly distinguishable from everything that surrounds us. We have no reason to be mistrustful towards our world, for it is not against us. If it has horrors, they are our horrors, if it has precipices, those precipices are ours, and, if there are dangers there, we must try to love them. And if we adjust our life to the principle which advises us that we must always attach ourselves to what is difficult, then that which now still appears to us most strange, will become our most familiar and loyal friend. How can we forget that old myth, which is to be found at the beginning of all peoples—the myth of the dragon, which at the last moment changes into a princess? Perhaps all the dragons of your life are princesses, who are only waiting for us to show a little beauty and courage. Perhaps at very bottom every horror is something helpless, that wants help from us.
And so, my dear Herr Kappus, you must not be horrified, if a grief rises up before you greater than any you have seen before. If over your hands and all your doings there passes an uneasiness, like light and cloud-shadows, you must bethink yourself, that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it is holding you in its hands, and will not let you fall. Why do you want to exclude any disturbance, any woe or sadness from your life, seeing that you do not know what work their presence is performing in yourself? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question, whence has come all that and whither is it going? Seeing that you know that you are in a state of transition and there is nothing you could desire more than to transform yourself. If something in your present life is sickly, remember that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself of foreign elements. Then one must just help it to be sick, to have its sickness in its entirety and to let it come right out, for that is its means of progress. So much is happening in you now, dear Herr Kappus, that you must be patient like a sick man and confident like a convalescent, for perhaps you are both these two. And you are still more, you are also the doctor, who must watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait, and that is above all what you must do now, in so far as you are your own doctor.
Do not watch yourself too closely, do not be too quick to draw conclusions from that which is happening to you. Simply let it happen, otherwise you will come too easily to look, reproachfully—that is to say, from a moral point of view—upon your past, which naturally takes part in everything that is happening to you now. But what you remember and condemn is not that part of the confusions, desires, and yearnings of your boyhood which is effective within you. The extraordinary circumstances of a lonely and helpless childhood are so difficult and complicated, exposed to so many influences and at the same time so cut off from any really coherent scheme of life, that, when a vice enters into it, one cannot simply speak of it as vice. One must always be so careful with names; it is often by the name of a crime that a life is shattered and not by the nameless and personal action itself, which was. probably a perfectly definite necessity of that life and could without difficulty be accepted by it as such. The consumption of strength only seems to you to be so great, because you over-estimate the victory; it is not the victory that is the "great thing" you think you have performed, although you are right in your feeling. The great thing is this, that there was already something there which you could put in the place of that deception, something true and real. Without that your victory would only have been a moral reaction without any further meanings: as it is it has become an epoch in your life—your life, dear Herr Kappus, of which I think with so many good wishes. Do you remember how this life of yours yearned to pass out of childhood, and come to the state of "a big man"? I can see that it is now longing to leave the "big man" for the "bigger man." Therefore it does not cease to be difficult, but for that very reason it will also not cease to grow.
And if I am to say one thing more to you, it is this: do not believe that he who is trying to console you lives without troubles among the simple and quiet words which often do you good. His life is full of troubles and griefs and is not to be compared with yours. Were it not so, he could never have been able to find those words.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Furuborg, Jonsered, Sweden,
4th November, 1904.
My dear Herr Kappus,
During this time, that has passed without a letter from me, I have been partly travelling and partly so busy, that I could not write. To-day, too, I find it difficult to write, because I have already had to write so many letters that my hand is tired. If I could dictate, I would say a great deal to you, but as it is you must take a few words only for your long letter.
I think of you often, and with good wishes so concentrated upon you that I am sure it must somehow have helped you. I often doubt whether my letters can really be a help to you. Do not say: "Yes, they are." Accept them quietly and without much thanks, and let us wait and see what will come of them. It is perhaps useless for me to go into your words in detail, for what I could say about your tendency to doubts and your inability to harmonise your outward and inward life, or about anything else that is afflicting you, is always the same as what I have already said; the wish that you may find enough patience in yourself to endure, and enough simplicity, to believe, that you may gain more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your loneliness among other men. And for the rest let life happen to you. Believe me, life is right in every case.
Concerning feelings: all these feelings are pure which comprehend your whole being and lift it up; impure is the feeling that only grasps one side of your being and thus distorts you. All thoughts you can have with regard to your childhood are good. Everything that makes of you something more than you were beforehand in your best moments, is right. Every elation is good as long as it pervades your whole being, is not intoxication and confusion, but joy so clear that one can see to its very depth. Do you understand what I mean?
Your doubt can become a good quality if you educate it. It must gain knowledge and power of criticism. If it wants to destroy anything, ask it why that something is worthy of destruction: demand proofs from it, test it, and you will perhaps find that it is at a loss and embarrassed, perhaps even rebellious. But do not give in. Demand arguments and deal in this way attentively and consistently with each separate occasion, and the day will come, when instead of being destructive, it will become one of your best workers—perhaps the most skilful of all the workers, who are engaged in the building up of your life.
That is all I can say to you to-day. But I send you at the same time the copy of a little poem, which has now appeared in the Prague "German Work." There I speak further to you of life and death and of how both are great and powerful.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
26th December, 1908.
You must know, dear Herr Kappus, how glad I was to get your beautiful letter. The news which you give me, tangible and substantial as it is once again, appears to me to be good, and the longer I thought of it, the more did I feel that it really was good. As a matter of fact I wanted to write this to you for Christmas Eve; but in the midst of the varied and uninterrupted work, in which I have spent this winter, the old festival came upon me so suddenly, that I hardly had time to attend to the most necessary matters, much less for writing letters.
But I have often thought of you during these festival days and have pictured to myself how quiet you must be in your lonely fort among the empty mountains, over which those mighty southern winds hurl themselves, as if they wanted to swallow them up in large pieces.
The stillness in which there is room for such noises and movements must be immense, and when one thinks that to all that is added the distant presence of the sea, joining in with its note, perhaps the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish for you, that you may confidently and patiently let this mighty loneliness work upon you. Nothing will be able to strike it out of your life afterwards. In every experience and action that lies before you it will, as a nameless influence, have a continued and imperceptibly decisive effect upon you, something after the manner in which our forefathers' blood stirs unceasingly within us and joins itself to our own to form that unique and unrepeatable thing, that we ourselves are in all the changes of our life.
Yes, I rejoice that you have this solid, definite existence, the title and the uniform, the service and all those tangible and limited things, which, in such surroundings, in the company of a handful of men alike isolated, assume an earnestness and become a necessity, which above and beyond the game and pastime of a military career constitute an employment that demands vigilance, and which do not only leave room for, but actually themselves train an independent watchfulness. That we should be in situations, which work upon us and bring us from time to time face to face with the great things of nature—that is all that is necessary.
Art, too, is only a form of life, and by living in no matter what way one can be unconsciously preparing oneself for it; in every real career one is nearer to art and more its neighbour than in those unreal half-artistic careers, which pretend to be near to art, but in practice deny and attack the existence of all art—somewhat in the manner of all journalism and nearly all criticism, and three-quarters of what is and would like to be called literature. In a word I rejoice that you have overcome the danger of falling into those professions, and that somewhere in a hard reality you are lonely and courageous. May the year that lies before you keep you and strengthen you in it.
R. M. RILKE.