Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet #8


Paul Cezanne, one of Rilke’s contemporaries and inspirations

“Dream of the Poet, or Kiss of the Muse”


“The Only Journey Is The One Within” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

So you mustn’t be frightened . . . if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you . . . so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like some one who is recovering; for perhaps you are both . . .

Don’t observe yourself too closely. Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen . . . The extraordinary circumstances of a solitary and helpless childhood are so difficult, so complicated, surrendered to so many influences and at the same time so cut off from all real connection with life that, where a vice enters it, one may not simply call it a vice . . .

And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don’t think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure. His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words.


Rainer Maria Rilke

3 thoughts on “Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet #8

  1. I’m a big believer in signs, as well.

    To be honest, I’ve never read Rilke, although that will definitely change now. That passage moved me, so again, thank you. It was everything.

    1. I don’t know how familiar you are with Rilke, but someone else had that passage on his site as a poem, and I knew that it wasn’t actually a poem, so I did some digging and found that original passage. I thought that it was appropriate that it was in a letter to a young poet. I hope that it helped. Rilke is so deep, and often I cannot go to him unless I am ready to do some serious thinking, but then other times, he is perfect. This was one of those times. And then, I always try to have a visual image to connect with what I have written. I did a little more digging and found out that Rilke admired Rodin and Cezanne. I was looking through Cezanne images, and I came across the muse and poet image, and I was astounded. I really believe in signs. I had never seen this image by Cezanne, and I like to think that I know my impressionists. I was momentarily dumbfounded. It was as if everything I wanted to say to you was right there. And everything that I had been thinking as far as my own concerns about the piece that I’m writing were being addressed as well. Remember what I said about our muse. It’s not Erato, which is who I also believed it was. It’s actually Calliope, who is the muse of eloquence and epic poetry. Erato is the muse of erotic poetry. So while Erato may occasionally guide us in our journey, Calliope is our true guide because both of us depend upon the word, the selection of the right word. So, in essence, what happened, is that Rilke, Cezanne, and Calliope all conspired, and reached out and gave both of us a much needed shove.

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