The Rainer Maria Rilke Archive

Poetry, Quotations, & Writings

Letter Four

Worpswede, near Bremen,
16th July, 1903.

I left Paris about ten days ago, thoroughly unwell and tired, and travelled to a great northerly plain, whose expanse, quiet and sky are to return me to health again. But I met with a long period of rain, which is trying to-day for the first time to clear up over the restlessly storm-driven land. I make use of this first moment of brightness to greet you, dear Sir.

My very dear Herr Kappus, I have left a letter of yours long unanswered

—not that I had forgotten it; on the contrary it was of the kind which one reads again, when one finds it among one’s letters, and in it I seemed to get to know you, as it were, most intimately. It was the letter of the 2nd May and I am sure that you remember it. When I read it as now in the great stillness of these distant parts, then your beautiful concern for life moves me, moves me even more than it moved me in Paris, where everything strikes the ear differently and fades away before the excessive, the earth-shaking noise. Here, where a mighty land is about me, here I feel that no human being can answer for you those questions and feelings which have a life of their own in the depth of your heart, for even the best use words wrongly when they want to give them the most delicate and almost inexpressible meaning. But, for all that, I think that you cannot remain without a solution, if you attach yourself to objects like those with which my eyes are now regaling themselves. If you attach yourself to Nature, to the simple and small in her, which hardly anyone sees, but which can so unexpectedly turn into the great and the immeasurable, if you have this love for what is slight and try quite simply as a servant to win the confidence of what appears to you poor, then everything will become easier for you, more uniform and somehow more reconciling, not perhaps in the understanding, which holds back in amazement, but in your innermost consciousness, watchfulness and knowledge. You are so young, all beginning is so far in front of you, and I should like to beg you earnestly to have patience with all unsolved problems in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms, or books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not search now for the answers, which cannot be given you, because you could not live them. That is the point, to live everything. Now you must live your problems. And perhaps gradually, without noticing it, you will live your way into the answer some distant day. Perhaps you actually have in you the possibility of moulding and shaping, as a particularly blessed and pure form of life; train yourself in it—but take what comes in complete trust, and, as long as it comes from your own will, from some need or other of your inner self, then take it for itself and hate nothing. Sex is difficult, yes, it is difficult. But the things with which we have been charged are difficult, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious. If only you realise that and manage out of yourself, out of your predisposition and nature, out of your experience and your childhood and your own resources, to win a relation to sex entirely your own and free from the influence of convention or custom, then you must no longer fear to lose yourself and to become unworthy of your best possession.

Bodily pleasure is an experience of the senses, exactly like pure seeing or the pure feeling with which a lovely fruit fills the tongue; it is a great and infinite experience which is given to us, a knowledge of the world, the fulfilment and glory of all knowledge. And it is not our receiving it that is bad; what is bad is that nearly everybody misuses and squanders this experience and, instead of storing it up for supreme moments, uses it as an allurement and a distraction at the tired moments of his life. Eating, too, has been turned by mankind into something else; want on the one hand and excess on the other have rendered turbid the clearness of this need, and all the deep and simple necessities in which life renews itself have in like manner become turbid. But the individual man can make them clear for himself and live clearly [or if not the individual who is too dependent, at any rate the solitary man]. He can remember that all beauty in animals and plants is a quiet and lasting form of love and longing, and he can see the animal, as he sees the plant, patiently and willingly synthesising and increasing itself and growing net out of physical desire or physical pain, but bending to necessities which are greater than desire and pain and mightier than will and resistance. Oh, that mankind would receive more humbly this secret, of which the earth right down to its smallest things is full, and would bear it and endure it more seriously, and would feel how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it so lightly! If he would only show respect towards his fruitfulness, which is only one and the same whether its manifestation be spiritual or physical; for spiritual creation, too, springs originally from the physical, is of one essence with it, and is simply like a more delicate, more enraptured, and more eternal, repetition of bodily pleasure. “The thought of being a creative worker, of begetting, of shaping” is nothing without its great and lasting confirmation and realisation in the world, nothing without the thousand-fold assent of animals and things

—and only for this reason is its enjoyment so indescribably lovely and rich, that it is full of inherited recollections of the begetting and bearing of millions. In one thought of a creative worker a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with loftiness and sublimity. And those, who come together in the night and are twined in quivering pleasure, are performing a serious work and are heaping up sweetness, depth and force for the song of some coming poet, who will arise to express inexpressible ecstasies. Therewith they call to the future, and if ever they err and embrace blindly, the future comes all the same, a new man arises, and on the ground of Chance, which here appears ratified, there awakes the law by which the more resistant and more powerful seed makes its way to the open cell which advances towards it. Do not be led astray by the surface of things; in the depths everything becomes law. And those who live this secret falsely and badly—and they are very many—lose it only for themselves and still hand it on unconsciously like a closed letter. Do not be led astray by multiplicity of names and the complicatedness of occasions. Perhaps there exists over everything a mighty motherhood in the form of universal yearning. The beauty of the young virgin woman, a being who, as you so beautifully put it, has not yet performed her task, is motherhood, which has a presentiment of itself and prepares itself, is anxious and yearns. The mother’s beauty is serving motherhood, and in the old woman it is a mighty recollection. And I think that there is motherhood in man too, bodily and spiritual motherhood; his begetting is a kind of bearing, too, and bearing it is, when he creates out of his innermost abundance. Perhaps the sexes are more related to each other than is supposed, and the great renovation of the world will perhaps consist in this, that men and women, freed from all confused feelings and aversion, will seek each other out not as contrasts but as brothers and sisters and as neighbours, and will work together as human beings to bear seriously and patiently in common this heavy burden of sex which has been laid upon them.

But everything that will perhaps some time be possible for many, the solitary man can already prepare and build up with his hands, which err less than others. Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude, and bear the pain which it causes you with euphonious lament. For you say that those who are near to you are far away, and that shows that your outlook is beginning to be wide. And if your foreground is far from you, then your horizon is already beneath the stars and very great. Rejoice in your growth, into which you can take no one with you, and be good to those who remain behind. Be assured and peaceful in their presence, do not torture them with your doubts and do not frighten them with your confidence or your joy, which they could not comprehend. Seek some kind of simple, true communion with them, which need not change as you yourself become ever different. Love in them life in a form unknown to you, and be indulgent towards those who, as they grow old, fear that solitude in which you have confidence. Avoid adding new material to that strained drama which- is ever played between parents and children. It uses up much of the children’s strength and consumes the love of the parents, which is always active and warm, even if it does not understand. Do not ask them for any advice and reckon on no understanding from them, but believe in a love which is stored up for you as a heritage, and have confidence that in this love there is a force and a blessedness, which you need never leave behind even in your furthest journeys.

It is a good thing that you are now entering upon a career which makes you independent and sets you entirely on your own feet in every sense. Wait patiently to see whether your innermost life feels itself limited by the nature of this career. I consider that it is very difficult and makes very many claims upon one, for it is burdened with great conventions and leaves hardly any room for a personal interpretation of its duties. But your loneliness will be a support and a home to you in the midst of unsympathetic surroundings, and out of it you will find all the ways of your life. All my good wishes are ready to accompany you, and my confidence is with you.

Yours,

RAINER MARIA RILKE.

Translated by K.W Maurer

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