The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

Letter Five

Rome, 29th
October, 1903.

My dear Sir,

I received your letter of the 29th August at Florence, and it is only after two months that I now speak to you about it. Please forgive me this tardiness, but I do not like writing letters on a journey, because for letter-writing I need something more than the necessary tools

—a little quiet and solitude and a not too unfriendly hour.

We reached Rome about six weeks ago, at a time when it was still the empty, hot Rome notorious for its fever, and this circumstance, together with other practical difficulties in our arrangements, helped to bring it about that our restlessness would have no end and that the foreign country weighed upon us with the burden of homelessness. I must add, that, if one does not know it, Rome has an oppressive and saddening effect during the first days because of the lifeless and unhealthy atmosphere of museums which it exhales, because of the numberless monuments of the past, which have been hauled out and laboriously restored, and from which a tiny present draws nourishment, and because of the dreadful over-estimation of these deformed and ruined objects, which is supported by philologists and copied by the conventional Italian tourists; though at bottom they are nothing more than the chance remains of another epoch and of a life which is not, and should not be, ours. Finally, after weeks of daily self-defence, though still a little bewildered, one comes to oneself again and one says, “No, there is no more beauty here than elsewhere, and all these objects, which generation after generation has continued to admire and which the hands of jobbers have repaired and restored, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value”; but there is plenty of beauty here, because there is plenty of beauty everywhere. Waters infinitely full of life flow over the old aqueducts into the great town. They dance in its many squares over white stone bores and spread themselves out in broad roomy basins. They murmur by day and lift up their murmuring by night, which is vast here and starry and soft with breezes. And there are gardens here, unforgettable avenues and staircases, staircases thought out by Michelangelo, staircases which are built in the likeness of downward-gliding waters

—the steps in their broad descent-giving birth one to the other like waves. By such impressions does one pull oneself together and win oneself back from all the claims of the many things which talk and chatter here—and how talkative they are!—and one learns slowly to recognise the few things in which there dwells eternity, which one can love, and solitude, in which one can quietly share.

I am still living in the town on the Capitol, not far from the most beautiful image of a horseman which has remained preserved for us from Roman art

—that of Marcus Aurelius. But in a few weeks I shall move into a quiet and simple room, an old gallery lying deep in the heart of a large park, hidden from the town with its noise and incidents. I shall live there the whole winter and rejoice in the great quietness, from which I am hoping for the gift of good and profitable hours.

From there, where I shall be more at home, I will write you a longer letter, in which I will also talk about your writing. To-day I must only tell you what I have perhaps been wrong in not telling you earlier, that the book whose despatch you announced in your letter, and which should contain some of your work, has not arrived here. Did it go back to you from Worpswede? Because one is not permitted to forward parcels to foreign countries. That is the best thing that can have happened to it, and I would be glad to hear it confirmed. I hope it is not a question of loss, which is unfortunately far from being an exceptional occurrence with the Italian postal system.

I should have been glad to receive this book, as indeed anything which gives an indication of yourself, and if you entrust to me any verses that have come into being in the meantime, I will read them as well and truly from my heart as I can.

With good wishes and greetings,

Yours,

RAINER MARIA RILKE.

Translated by K.W Maurer

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