Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke


Few books touch your soul the way Letters To a Young Poet does. The language is enchanting. The problems are wide-ranging and applicable to most people. The main creative outlet addressed in the book is poetry, but the advice applies to anything someone with a creative bone in their body touches with pride and says: I made that.

It's a book for the soul, not the mind. Don't expect to to learn tips for managing your creative workload or a process for creating great work. Rather, expect to look at your heart, more than once, and ask it: Why do you want me to create, little heart?


  • Nothing is less relevant to a work of art than the judgement of other people.

  • You ask if your poems are good. You ask me. You've asked others before me. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you worry when journals reject them. Now, since you've invited me to advise you, I will ask you to give all that up. You are looking outward, and now you must avoid that at all costs. No one can advise and help you. No one. There is only one thing to do. Go into yourself. Ask yourself why you pursue this thing you call writing. Look and see if its roots draw from the deepest place in your heart. Ask yourself if you would die if you were forbidden to write. Above all, ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, Must I do this? Delve within for the deepest answer. And if you respond to this question with a strong and simple yes, then build your life according to its necessity.

  • Therefore, protect yourself from stale motifs and turn to your own life. Portray your sorrows and daydreams, your passing thoughts and beliefs stirred by a glimpse of beauty.

  • On how hard it is to give advice to other people:

    For any one person to advise or help another, so much must come together; a whole constellation of factors must be in play for that to succeed even once.

  • Time eludes measurement. What is a year? And ten years is nothing. To be an artist means not to count or reckon but to ripen like the tree that does not force its sap and, trustingly, stands through the storms of spring without fear that summer will not come. It will come. But it comes only to the patient ones, who stand there with eternity stretching around them, quiet, vast, and free of worryt.

  • This is one of the toughest tests for creative artists: to remain ever unaware of their best qualities in order not to rob them of authenticity.

  • I feel that no person has an answer for the questions and feelings arising from deep within you. For when adressing the most delicate and nearly unsayable, words fail even the best.

  • I ask you, dear sir, to have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves, like closed rooms, like books written in a foreign language.

  • In a single creative thought dwell a thousand forgotten nights of love, which infuse it with immensity.

  • It is good that you will soon be entering a profession that will ensure your independence and self-sufficiency in every regard. Be patiently watchful lest your inner life be diminished by the requirements of this profession. I consider that to be difficult in the extreme, given the weight of convention and one's own grasp of the duties involved. But your solitude amid unfamiliar circumstances will be haven and home for you, going forth, you will find your way.

  • Going within and meeting no one else for hours–that is what one must learn to attain...And if one day one grasps that their busyness is pathetic, their occupations frozen and disconnected from life, why then not continue to see like a child, see it as strange, see it out of depth of one's own world, the vastness of one's own solitude, which is, in itself, work and status and vocation?

  • It is good to be solitary, because solitude is difficult, and that a thing is difficult must be even more of a reason for us to undertake it.

  • To love is not about merging. It is a noble calling for the individual to ripen, to differentiate, to become a world in oneself in response to another. It is a great, immodest call that singles out a person and summons them beyond all boundaries.

  • I belive that almost all our sorrows are moments of tension that we fear might cripple us because we are no longer in touch with our banished feelings.


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