Thursday 6 July 2023

Letters to a Young Poet with the Letters to Rilke from the "Young Poet"

Finished June 28
Letters to a Young Poet with the Letters to Rilke from the "Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Xaver Kappus, translated by Damion Searls

This is a classic, paired with the other half of the correspondence that it was part of. The letters are written over several months and were an interlude in both the writer's lives, with no significant connection between them beyond this. One thing that struck me was the relative closeness in age between the two, although Rilke had already launched his career. Rilke's writing, even in this private correspondence (never published until after his death) was much superior to that of Kappus. Kappus definitely sounds like a fanboy, and his writing includes a lot of fawning and thanking. 
Rilke is patient, thoughtful, and diplomatic. His writing stands the test of time, and in some cases was ahead of its time. One selection from Letter Seven is a great example:

The girl, the woman, in this new manner of unfolding specific to her, will only transitionally imitate masculine ways of being, both good and bad, and follow the same male callings, do the same male jobs. After the uncertainty of these transitions has passed, it will be clear that women have passed through this multiplicity of (often ridiculous) disguises only to purify their own essential nature from the distorting influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life dwells and tarries more immediately, more intimately, more fruitfully, must surely have become fundamentally more mature, more human human beings, than the easygoing man, not pulled down beneath the surface of life by any difficult bodily fruit, who overhastily, arrogantly undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of the woman, carried to term through pain and humiliation, will come to light once her outward position has changed and she has thrown off her conventional status as "only a woman'; the men today who don't see this coming will be baffled and shattered. Someday (and trustworthy portents of this are already speaking and shining, especially in the countries of the north) -- someday there will be a girl, a woman, who name no longer signifies merely the opposite of male but something in and of itself, existing, alive, implying no limit and requiring no complement--; the female human being.

As you can see from this passage, the letters convey not just advice particular to the recipient, but general life advice and commentary that will help any young person with their struggles, and put things in perspective for them. I can see why Rilke's letters are a classic.

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