23rd December, 1903.
My dear Herr Kappus,
You shall not be without a greeting from me at Christmastime, when in the midst of this festivity your loneliness weighs more heavily upon you than usually. But when you notice that it is great, rejoice in it; for you must ask yourself what that loneliness would be, that had not greatness; there is only one kind of loneliness. It is great and not easy to bear, and there comes to nearly everyone the hours, when he would gladly exchange it for any intercourse however common-place and cheap, for the semblance of a slight understanding with the next best, with the most unworthy. . . . But perhaps those are just the hours when the loneliness grows; for its growing is as painful as the growing of boys and as sad as the beginning of spring. But that should not confuse you. It is still only loneliness that is necessary
—great inner loneliness. To retreat into oneself and meet nobody for hours on end—that is what one must be able to attain. To be alone, as one was alone as a child, when the grown-ups walked about involved in things which seemed great and important, because big people looked so busy and because one could comprehend nothing of their doings. And when one day one realises that their affairs are paltry, their professions benumbed and no longer connected with life, why not still like a child look upon them as something strange from without the depth of one’s own world, regarding them from the immunity of one’s own loneliness, which is itself work, position and profession? Why desire to exchange a child’s wise incomprehension for self-defence and disdain? Incomprehension is loneliness, but self-defence and disdain are participation in that from which one is trying to separate oneself by these means.
Consider the world which you carry within you, and call this consideration what you like; let it be recollections of your own childhood or yearning for your own future
—only be attentive to that which rises up within you, and place it above everything that you see around you. The events of your innermost self are worthy of your whole love. You must somehow work at them and not lose too much time or too much spirit in elucidating your position with regard to mankind. Who, pray, says that you have any such position? I know that your profession is hard and full of opposition to yourself; I foresaw your complaint and knew that it would come. Now that it has come I cannot soothe it. I can only advise you to consider whether all professions are not like that, full of claims, full of enmity for the individual, and at the same time fully imbued with the hate of those who submit dumbly and surlily to monotonous duty. The position in which you must now live is no more heavily burdened with conventions, prejudices and errors than other positions, and if there are some which carry with them a greater outward freedom, there is none that in itself is wide and spacious and connected with the great things of which real life consists. Only the individual, who is lonely, is like a thing placed under obscure laws, and whether a man goes out into the morning as it rises, or looks out into the eventful evening, and feels what is happening there, all position falls away from him as from a dead man, although he is standing in the middle of real life. What you are experiencing now as an officer, you would have felt in like manner in any of the existing professions, and even if apart from any position, you had sought easy and independent contact with society alone, this feeling of constraint would still not have been spared you. Everywhere it is the same, but that is no reason for anxiety or sadness. If there is no intercourse between you and mankind, try to get nearer to “things.” They will not desert you; there are still the nights and the winds which blow through the trees and over many lands; with “things” and with animals, everything is still full of happenings in which you can take part; and children are still the same as you were as a child, so sad and so happy—and when you think of your childhood, then you live again among them, among the lonely children, and the grown-ups are nothing and their dignity has no value.
And if it makes you anxious and torments you to think of childhood and the simplicity-and quiet which goes together with it, because you can no longer believe in God, who is always appearing in it, then ask yourself if you have really lost God. Is it not much more, that you have never possessed Him? For when should that have been? Do you believe that children can contain Him, whom men can only bear with labour and the burden of whom weighs down the grey-haired? Do you believe that he, who possesses Him, could lose Him like a little stone, or do you not rather think with me that he who had Him, could only be lost by Him? But if you come to realise, that He did not exist in your childhood, nor beforehand; if you suspect that Christ was deceived by his yearning and Mohammed betrayed by his pride
—if you feel with horror, that now in this hour in which we speak of Him He does not exist—what entitles you then to regret as a dead man Him who never existed, and to seek Him as if He had been lost?
Why do you not think that He is He who is coming, who from eternity has been at hand, the being of the future, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from putting His birth into the times of the future and living your life as a painful but beautiful day in the history of a mighty pregnancy? For do you not see that everything that happens is ever beginning, and would it not be His beginning, since beginning is in itself always so beautiful? If He is the most complete, must not smaller things exist before Him, so that He can choose from plenteousness and superfluity? Must He not be the last in order to grasp everything to Himself? And what meaning would our lives have, if He for whom we are longing had already been?
As the bees bring together their honey, so do we take the sweetest from everything and build Him. Even with what is slight and unpretentious, as long as it comes to pass out of love, we begin; with work and with rest after work, with a silence of a little lovely joy, with everything that we do without participation or followers, we begin to form Him, whom we shall no more experience than our forefathers could experience us. Yet they are in us, those long-departed, as potentialities, as a burden upon our fate, as blood that flows murmuring in us, and as a countenance, that rises from out of the depths of time.
Is there anything that can take from you this hope some
day to be in Him, at any rate in the furthest and uttermost part of Him?
Celebrate Christmas in this holy feeling, that perhaps He needs this very anxiety for life from you, in order to begin. These very days of your transition, when everything in you is working at Him, are perhaps just the same as those when as a child you worked breathlessly at Him. Be patient and without vexation, and remember that the least we can do is not to make His coming into being more difficult for Him than the earth makes it for the spring, when it wishes to come.
Be joyful and of good hope,
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Translated by K.W Maurer