Letters to a young poet
By Rainer Maria Rilke
The first letter out of the series of ten
Commentary by A.J.Rao
These letters represent an important autobiographical document that facilitates
a clear understanding of Rilke’s poetry.
Rilke’s first letter (out of the ten he wrote to the young poet) deals with the request for comments on the latter’s poems.
The letter begins stating how difficult it is to say things in art without their resulting in misunderstandings. He states his own abhorrence to criticism. Things are so unsayable as they happen in a space that exists beyond words, those mysterious existences that endure beyond the transience of life.
Rilke then says rather bluntly that the young poet does not have a style of his own. Most of the things have already been said and it is difficult to rise above the banality of human expression unless one rescues oneself from the general themes and draws images from the life around even if there is poverty in it.
Ask yourself in the most silent hour of the night: “Must I write?” …….A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. This, in fact, is the essence of Rilke’s poetry.
Quietly the poet debunks the accepted theories of poetry prevailing then which placed a lot of reliance on the technique and craft of poetry and the so called purity of the subject. The subjects for poetry were , for Rilke, more to be drawn from within than from external sources A very important component of the poetical experience is , in the case of Rilke, the imagery which at times assumes the central place in the scheme of things leaving the intended theme in the background . The reader’s own experience gets mixed up in the “atmosphere” created through the use of familiar images invested with uncommon significance.
This way the reader comes closer to the Rilke experience.-