Book Review: Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke (trans. by Stephen Mitchell) July 24, 2007 Vivek Sharma desicritics.org
Rilke is the Rumi, Kabir, Gibran of the German language. As a poet, as a seeker, he explored the limits of his knowledge and belief. He translated his solitary thoughts into poetry which has music, meaning and agelessness. What this prose, these letters contain is a faithful, forthright, candid and very modest, searching, guiding voice of Rilke. In these letters, written to a younger poet, who sought Rilke's guidance, Rilke chalks out his whole ideology of what poetry must be, and how a poet must reach above, beyond and deep within himself, to arrive at the inevitable verse, which is both timely and timeless, not only for himself but also for the reader. As a craft, poetry is full of solitary devotion. The premium and investment in terms of poet's emotional and intellectual effort is seldom rewarded. A poet lives on the edge, and always runs the danger of tipping into the pits of self-pity, destruction and death-like poverty. The world seldom honors a poet in his prime, rather the best of the best poets compose their work in spite of the social, political and economic obligations they need to fulfill, obligations that motivate poetry, as well as impede the writing of it. Sheer talent is not enough, mere vocabulary does not quite make you one, rhyming words and dedication are mere abilities, knowledge of published works is important, and yet what Rilke strove for, what Rilke achieved and what he advises the readers/poets to seek is a state where all these attributes synchronize to produce a poem that is at once lyrical and philosophical, understated yet powerful, terse yet tactful, and most importantly, honest and heartfelt. There are very few books that have touched the poet in me thus. Maugham's Of Human Bondage and Tolstoy's War and Peace come to my mind when I think of effectiveness of Rilke's prose. Yet Rilke, like his Russian idols, is bathed in realism, he seeks for life outside cities and savors spirituality that he most probably carried within him. Selected Poems of Rilke translated by Robert Bly is a recommended resource, as is The Book of Hours (whose new translation is only couple of years old). I will encourage every writer, who takes his vocation with seriousness to read Rilke. Like Neruda, Shakespeare, Kalidasa, Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Goethe, Tagore, Pushkin, Ghalib, Hafez, Basho, Dinkar, Tulsidas, Homer, Milton and Lorca, Rilke is a must read poet for everyone interested in poetry and life. This book is a collection of letters, so is not to be confused with Poetry Handbooks or Guides that are available everywhere. These letters are personal admissions and advice of Rilke to a younger poet. Rilke started writing these when he was in late twenties, and was still groping for his voice, his intention, his ability. The letters are moving and touching. They are like streams of thought that will shape the terrain they flow through, assuage the thirst of ones who arrive at them and if you let yourself go, carry you to the ocean of consciousness.
About me: mostly a poet, often a scientist; an aspiring author; passionate reader of English, Hindi and Sanskrit literature; in love with all forms of music esp Rock and Old Hindi Films; avid movie goer (both Bollywood and Hollywood), CRICKET enthusiast, and equally enthusiastic about physics and research! The Desicritics Team » Become A Desicritic