René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926), better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, generally considered the German language's greatest poet of the 20th century. His writings include one novel, several collections of poetry and several volumes of correspondence in which he invokes images that focus on the difficulty of communion with the ineffable in an age of disbelief, solitude and anxiety. These themes position him as a transitional figure between traditional and modernist writers.
== Quotes ==
Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.
Worpswede (1903)Du im Voraus verlorne Geliebte, Nimmergekommene, nicht weiß ich, welche Töne dir lieb sind. Nicht mehr versuch ich, dich, wenn das Kommende wogt, zu erkennen.
You who never arrived in my arms, Beloved, who were lost from the start, I don't even know what songs would please you. I have given up trying to recognize you in the surging wave of the next moment.
You Who Never Arrived (as translated by Stephen Mitchell) (1913-1914)Ach, die Gärten bist du, ach, ich sah sie mit solcher Hoffnung. Ein offenes Fenster im Landhaus—, und du tratest beinahe mir nachdenklich heran. Gassen fand ich,— du warst sie gerade gegangen, und die spiegel manchmal der Läden der Händler waren noch schwindlich von dir und gaben erschrocken mein zu plötzliches Bild.—Wer weiß, ob derselbe Vogel nicht hinklang durch uns gestern, einzeln, im Abend?
You, Beloved, who are all the gardens I have ever gazed at, longing. An open window in a country house —, and you almost stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,— you had just walked down them and vanished. And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows? perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us yesterday, separate, in the evening...
You Who Never Arrived, as translated by Stephen MitchellSchon ist mein Blick am Hügel, dem besonnten, dem Wege, den ich kaum begann, voran. So fasst uns das, was wir nicht fassen konnten, voller Erscheinung, aus der Ferne an—und wandelt uns, auch wenn wirs nicht erreichen, in jenes, das wir, kaum es ahnend, sind; ein Zeichen weht, erwidernd unserm Zeichen... Wir aber spüren nur den Gegenwind.
Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunny one, at the end of the path which I've only just begun. So we are grasped, by that which we could not grasp, at such great distance, so fully manifest—and it changes us, even when we do not reach it, into something that, hardly sensing it, we already are; a sign appears, echoing our own sign... But what we sense is the falling winds.
Spaziergang (A Walk) (March 1924)
Alternate translation: My eyes already touch the sunny hill, going far ahead of the road I have begun. So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;it has its inner light, even from a distance—and changes us, even if we do not reach it, into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are; a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave . . . but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke as translated by Robert Bly (1981)All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood.
Wartime Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1914-1921 (1940), translated by M.D. Herter NortonRose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust, Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel Lidern.
Translation: Rose, oh pure contradiction, desire, To be no one's sleep under so many Lids.
Rilke wrote his own epitaph sometime before October 27, 1925. He requested that it be inscribed on his gravestone. This was fifteen months before his death. (Translation: John J.L.Mood)The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.
Wendung (Turning Point), as translated by Stephen MitchellHe was a poet and hated the approximate.
The Journal of My Other SelfDeath is the side of life which is turned away from us.
Letter to W. von HulewiczMake your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.
As quoted in Sunbeams : A Book of Quotations (1990) by Sy Safransky, p. 42Everywhere I am folded, there I am a lie.
As quoted in News of the Universe : Poems of Twofold Consciousness (1995) by Robert Bly, p. 125
=== Rilke's Letters ===
Je weiter ich lebe, desto nötiger scheint es mir, auszuhalten, das ganze Diktat des Daseins bis zum Schluss nachzuschreiben; denn es möchte sein, dass erst der letzte Satz jenes kleine, vielleicht unscheinbare Wort enthält, durch welches alles mühsam Erlernte und Unbegriffene sich gegen einen herrlichen Sinn hinüberkehrt.
The longer I live, the more urgent it seems to me to endure and transcribe the whole dictation of existence up to its end, for it might just be the case that only the very last sentence contains that small and possibly inconspicuous word through which everything we had struggled to learn and everything we had failed to understand will be transformed suddenly into magnificent sense.
Letter to Ilse Erdmann, 21 December 1913, in Letters on Life, U. Baer, trans. (2007)Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.
Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (June 24, 1907)Ideally a painter (and, generally, an artist) should not become conscious of his insights: without taking the detour through his reflective processes, and incomprehensibly to himself, all his progress should enter so swiftly into the work that he is unable to recognise them in the moment of transition. Alas, the artist who waits in ambush there, watching, detaining them, will find them transformed like the beautiful gold in the fairy tale which cannot remain gold because some small detail was not taken care of.
Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 21, 1907)Painting is something that takes place among the colors, and ... one has to leave them alone completely, so that they can settle the matter among themselves. Their intercourse: this is the whole of painting. Whoever meddles, arranges, injects his human deliberation, his wit, his advocacy, his intellectual agility in any way, is already disturbing and clouding their activity.
Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 21, 1907)Just as the creative artist is not allowed to choose, neither is he permitted to turn his back on anything: a single refusal, and he is cast out of the state of grace and becomes sinful all the way through.
Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 23, 1907)He [Cézanne] reproduced himself with so much humble objectivity, with the unquestioning, matter of fact interest of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks: there's another dog.
Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 23, 1907)Not since Moses has anyone seen a mountain so greatly.
Quoted in Rilke's Letters on Cézanne, foreword (1952, trans. 1985)What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.
Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1960)
=== Das Buch der Bilder (The Book of Images) (1902) ===
Aus unendlichen Sehnsüchten steigen endliche Taten wie schwache Fontänen, die sich zeitig und zitternd neigen. Aber, die sich uns sonst verschweigen, unsere fröhlichen Kräfte—zeigen sich in diesen tanzenden Tränen.
Out of infinite longings rise finite deeds like weak fountains, falling back just in time and trembling. And yet, what otherwise remains silent, our happy energies—show themselves in these dancing tears.
Initiale (Initial) (as translated by Cliff Crego)Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß. Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren, und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.
Lord: it is time. The summer was immense. Let thine shadows upon the sundials fall, and unleash the winds upon the open fields.
Herbsttag (Autumn Day) (as translated by Cliff Crego)Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder, die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält.
Slowly the evening changes into the clothes held for it by a row of ancient trees.
Abend (Evening) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
=== Das Stunden-Buch (The Book of Hours) (1905) ===
Lösch mir die Augen aus: ich kann dich sehn, wirf mir die Ohren zu: ich kann dich hören, und ohne Füße kann ich zu dir gehn, und ohne Mund noch kann ich dich beschwören. Brich mir die Arme ab,ich fasse dich mit meinem Herzen wie mit einer Hand, halt mir das Herz zu, und mein Hirn wird schlagen, und wirfst du in mein Hirn den Brand, so werd ich dich auf meinem Blute tragen.Extinguish my sight, and I can still see you; plug up my ears, and I can still hear; even without feet I can walk toward you, and without mouth I can still implore. Break off my arms, and I will hold you with my heart as if it were a hand; strangle my heart, and my brain will still throb; and should you set fire to my brain, I still can carry you with my blood.
Translated by Annemarie S. KidderIch bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug, um jede Stunde zu weihen. Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug, um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding, dunkel und klug. Ich will meinen Willen und will meinen Willen begleiten die Wege zur Tat; und will in stillen, irgendwie zörgernden Zeiten, wenn etwas naht, unter den Wissenden sein oder allein.
I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough to make every hour holy. I am too small in the world, and yet not tiny enough just to stand before you like a thing, dark and shrewd. I want my will, and I want to be with my will as it moves towards deed; and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times, when something is approaching, I want to be with those who are wise or else alone.
Number 2 (as translated by Cliff Crego)
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone enough to truly consecrate the hour. I am much too small in this world, yet not small enough to be to you just object and thing, dark and smart. I want my free will and want it accompanying the path which leads to action; and want during times that beg questions, where something is up, to be among those in the know, or else be alone.
(as translated by Annemarie S. Kidder)
=== Neue Gedichte (New Poems) (1907) ===
Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen? Ach gerne möchte ich sie bei irgendetwas Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die nicht weiterschwingt, wenn diene Tiefen schwingen. Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich, nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich, die aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht. Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt? Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand? O süßes Lied.
How shall I hold on to my soul, so that it does not touch yours? How shall I lift it gently up over you on to other things? I would so very much like to tuck it away among long lost objects in the dark, in some quiet, unknown place, somewhere which remains motionless when your depths resound. And yet everything which touches us, you and me, takes us together like a single bow, drawing out from two strings but one voice. On which instrument are we strung? And which violinist holds us in his hand? O sweetest of songs.
Liebes-Lied (Love Song) (as translated by Cliff Crego)Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehen, gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehen, seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen—:in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen, unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut; während er unendlich still und sicher immer mündiger und königlicher und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.
This difficult living, heavy and as if all tied up, moving through that which has been left undone, is like the not-quite-finished walk of the swan.And dying, this slipping away from the ground upon which we stand every day, is his anxious letting himself fall—:into the waters, which receive him gladly and which, as if happily already gone by, draw back under him, wave after wave; while the swan, infinitely calm and self-assured, opener and more magnificent and more serene, allows himself to be drawn on.
Der Schwan (The Swan) (as translated by Cliff Crego)Die nächste Flut verwischt den Weg im Watt, und alles wird auf allen Seiten gleich; die kleine Insel draußen aber hat die Augen zu; verwirrend kreist der Deichum ihre Wohner, die in einem Schlaf geboren werden, drin sie viele Welten verwechseln schweigend, denn sie reden selten, und jeder Satz ist wie ein Epitaph
The next tide will erase the way through the mudflats, and everything will be again equal on all sides; but the small, far-out island already has its eyes closed; bewildered, the dike draws a circlearound its inhabitants who were born into a sleep in which many worlds are silently confused, for they rarely speak, and every phrase is like an epitaph.
Die Insel I (The Island I) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
=== Der Panther (The Panther) (1907) ===
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält. Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte, der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht, ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte, in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein, geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille— und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.
His tired gaze - from passing endless bars - has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds. To him there seem to be a thousand bars, and out beyond these bars exists no world. His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides that gently turn in ever smaller circles perform a dance of strength, centered deep within a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable. But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part, the pupils of his eyes dilate as images of past encounters enter while through his limbs a tension strains in silence only to cease to be, to die within his heart.
As translated by Albert Ernest Flemming
=== In Celebration of Me (1909) ===
I am so afraid of people's words. They describe so distinctly everything: And this they call dog and that they call house, here the start and there the end.I worry about their mockery with words, they know everything, what will be, what was; no mountain is still miraculous; and their house and yard lead right up to God.I want to warn and object: Let the things be! I enjoy listening to the sound they are making. But you always touch: and they hush and stand still. That's how you kill.
Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder
=== The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910) ===
Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge, as translated by Michael Hulse (2009)Ist es möglich, daß es Leute giebt, welche 'Gott' sagen und meinen, das wäre etwas Gemeinsames?—Und sieh nur zwei Schulkinder: Es kauft sich der eine ein Messer, und sein Nachbar kauft sich ein ganz gleiches am selben Tag. Und sie zeigen einander nach einer Woche die beiden Messer, und es ergiebt sich, daß sie sich nur noch ganz entfernt ähnlich sehen,—so verschieden haben sie sich in verschiedenen Händen entwickelt. ... Ist es möglich, zu glauben, man könne einen Gott haben, ohne ihn zu gebrauchen?
Is it possible that there are people who say "God" and suppose they mean something shared by all? — Only consider two schoolboys: one of them buys a knife, and the other buys an identical one on the same day. And a week later, they show each other the two knives, and they turn out to be only remotely similar, so differently have they been shaped by different hands. ... Is it possible to believe we could have a god without making use of him?
p. 16Mein Gott, fiel es mir mit Ungestüm ein, so bist du also. Es giebt Beweise für deine Existenz. Ich habe sie alle vergessen und habe keinen je verlangt, denn welche unge heuere Verpflichtung läge in deiner Gewißheit. Und doch, nun wird mirs gezeigt.
A thought struck me abruptly: My God, you do exist, then. There are proofs of Your existence. I had forgotten them all, and never demanded any either, for what an overwhelming obligation would come with this certainty. And yet that is what is now being shown to me.
=== Duino Elegies (1922) ===
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen, und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht, uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.
First Elegy (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)Ja, die Frühlinge brauchten dich wohl. Es muteten manche Sterne dir zu, daß du sie spürtest. Es hob sich eine Woge heran im Vergangenen, oder da du vorüberkamst am geöffneten Fenster, gab eine Geige sich hin. Das alles war Auftrag. Aber bewältigtest du's? Warst du nicht immer noch von Erwartung zer streut, als kündigte alles eine Geliebte dir an? (Wo willst du sie bergen, da doch die großen fremden Gedanken bei dir aus und ein gehn und öfters bleiben bei Nacht.)
Yes—the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past, or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing. All this was mission. But could you accomplish it? Weren't you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved? (Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you going and coming and often staying all night.)
First Elegy (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)Schließlich brauchen sie uns nicht mehr, die Früheentrückten, man entwöhnt sich des Irdischen sanft, wie man den Brüsten milde der Mutter entwächst. Aber wir, die so große Geheimnisse brauchen, denen aus Trauer so oft seliger Fortschritt entspringt –: könnten wir sein ohne sie?
In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us: they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys, and as gently as children outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers. But we, who do need such great mysteries, we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit's growth — : could we exist without them?
First Elegy (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)Liebende … [w]enn ihr einer dem andern euch an den Mund hebt und ansetzt –: Getränk an Getränk: o wie entgeht dann der Trinkende seltsam der Handlung.
Lovers ... when you raise yourselves and press your mouths together—drink upon drink: strange how each of you drinks your way past the other.
Second Elegy (as translated by Lee Siegel)
=== Sonnets to Orpheus (1922) ===
A tree ascended there. Oh pure transendence! Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear! And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.
Translated by Stephen MitchellThey more adeptly bend the willow's branches who have experience of the willow's roots.
Sonnet 6 (as translated by Edward Snow)When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk on the table: it attracts the dead.
Sonnet 6 (as translated by Edward Snow)
=== Imaginärer Lebenslauf (Imaginary Life Journey) (September 13, 1923) ===
Erst eine Kindheit, grenzenlos und ohne Verzicht und Ziel. O unbewußte Lust. Auf einmal Schrecken, Schranke, Schule, Frohne und Absturtz in Versuchung und Verlust.Trotz. Der Gebogene wird selber Bieger und rächt an anderen, daß er erlag. Geliebt, gefürchtet, Retter, Ringer, Sieger und Überwinder, Schlag auf Schlag.Und dann allein im Weiten, Leichten, Kalten. Doch tief in der errichteten Gestalt ein Atemholen nach dem Ersten, Alten...Da stürzte Gott aus seinem Hinterhalt.
First a childhood, limitless and without renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy. Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery, and collapse into temptation and loss.Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender, and thrusts upon others that which it suffered. Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner and conqueror, blow by blow.And then alone in cold, light, open space, yet still deep within the mature erected form, a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one...Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.
As translated by Cliff Crego
=== Letters to a Young Poet (1934) ===
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, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
Letter One (17 February 1903)No one can advise 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 roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
Letter One (17 February 1903)A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity.
Letter One (17 February 1903)I could give you no advice but this: to go into yourself and to explore the depths where your life wells forth.
Letter One (17 February 1903)If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.
Letter One (17 February 1903) as translated by M. D. Herter Norton (1993)Irony: Do not let yourself be governed by it, especially not in unproductive moments. In productive ones try to make use of it as one more means of seizing life.
Letter Two (5 April 1903)No experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.
Letter Three (23 April 1903)Read as little as possible of literary criticism - such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.
Letter Three (23 April 1903)Sie sind so jung, so vor allem Anfang, und ich möchte Sie, so gut ich es kann, bitten, lieber Herr, Geduld zu haben gegen alles Ungelöste in Ihrem Herzen und zu versuchen, die Fragen selbst liebzuhaben wie verschlossene Stuben und wie Bücher, die in einer sehr fremden Sprache geschrieben sind. Forschen Sie jetzt nicht nach den Antworten, die Ihnen nicht gegeben werden können, weil Sie sie nicht leben könnten. Und es handelt sich darum, alles zu leben. Leben Sie jetzt die Fragen. Vielleicht leben Sie dann allmählich, ohne es zu merken, eines fernen Tages in die Antwort hinein.
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Letter Four (16 July 1903)
Variant: Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. (Translation by Stephen Mitchell)If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.
Letter Four (16 July 1903)Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. If you just recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own talent and nature, out of your own experience and childhood and strength, to achieve a wholly individual relation to sex (one that is not influenced by convention and custom), then you will no longer have to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your dearest possession.
Letter Four (16 July 1903)Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments.
Letter Four (16 July 1903)The great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings.
Letter Four (16 July 1903)Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in.
Letter Five (29 October 1903)As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build Him. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start Him whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us. And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time. Is there anything that can deprive you of the hope that in this way you will someday exist in Him, who is the farthest, the outermost limit?
Letter Six (23 December 1903)Love is something difficult and it is more difficult than other things because in other conflicts nature herself enjoins men to collect themselves, to take themselves firmly in the hand with all their strength, while in the heightening of love the impulse is to give oneself wholly away.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it. To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)Young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become world, to become world for himself for another's sake. It is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)The demands which the difficult work of love makes upon our development are more than life-size, and as beginners we are not up to them. But if we nevertheless hold out and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in all the light and frivolous play, behind which people have hidden from the most earnest earnestness of their existence — then a little progress and alleviation will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us; that would be much.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)Young people -it is obvious -cannot achieve such a relationship, but they can, if they understand their life properly, grow up slowly to such happiness and prepare themselves for it. They must not forget, when they love, that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love- must learn love, and that like all learning wants peace, patience, and composure.
On young couples who have not yet matured enough to recognize and respect each other's solitude
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.
Letter Seven (14 May 1904)It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, - is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.
Letter Eight (12 August 1904)If only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.
Letter Eight (12 August 1904)There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other thing that oppress you - : is just what I have already said: just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.
Letter Nine (4 November 1904)All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.
Letter Nine (4 November 1904)It must be immense, this silence, in which sounds and movements have room, and if one thinks that along with all this the presence of the distant sea also resounds, perhaps as the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act as an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.
Letter Ten (26 December 1908)Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art - as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature.
Letter Ten (26 December 1908)
== Quotes about Rilke ==
Rilke learned to trust his own feelings, his longing to do something good. He teaches us to be patient as beginners in our necessary pursuit of some kind of excellence. He awakens us to the seriousness of living deeply, working steadily, feeling joy in our labor and self-expression, and being patient—the four cornerstones of a creative life. “Almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious.”
Alexandra Stoddard in Roxanne J. Coady and Joy Johannessen (eds.) The Book That Changed My Life (2006), ISBN 1-592-40210-0, p. 166
== External links ==
Rainer Maria Rilke, Profile at Poets.org
Works by Rainer Maria Rilke at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about Rilke at the Internet Archive
International Rilke Society (in German)