Half of this small book is taken up with a "Chronicle" that illuminates Rilke's personal situation and state of mind at the time the ten letters were written. The book never identifies the author of the Chronicle; in the absence of other evidence, one must attribute it to the translator, M.D.H. Norton. The letters themselves wouldn't be nearly as insightful without the Chronicle.
It's obvious from much of Rilke's writing that he bore a strong sense of his own inadequacy, his lack of knowledge and skills that many around him in the date-to-day world took for granted. Thus it was that he avoided offering criticism of his youthful correspondent's poems and confined his advice to matters of the inner life of an artist. Rilke strove to express the ineffable, to explore his own essence as a person and he urged the young poet Kappus to pursue similar goals. I was particularly struck with the intensity of the eighth letter, clearly in response to a plea for help, Kappus having poured out his soul in the letter that evoked this response from Rilke. Kappus has suffered great sorrow and is filled with questions of a deep and personal nature; Rilke responds in kind. Here, he urges Kappus to embrace suffering, allow it to strengthen him; and not to seek the sympathy of the outside world. Once again, Rilke's philosophy of the ascendancy of the inner man comes to the fore.
This is a very short collection of letters from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to one of his writing students. I've re-read this book many times throughout the years, and occasionally will flip open to random pages for inspiration on writing, art, and life.
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