26th December, 1908.
You must know, dear Herr Kappus, how glad I was to get your beautiful letter. The news which you give me, tangible and substantial as it is once again, appears to me to be good, and the longer I thought of it, the more did I feel that it really was good. As a matter of fact I wanted to write this to you for Christmas Eve; but in the midst of the varied and uninterrupted work, in which I have spent this winter, the old festival came upon me so suddenly, that I hardly had time to attend to the most necessary matters, much less for writing letters.
But I have often thought of you during these festival days and have pictured to myself how quiet you must be in your lonely fort among the empty mountains, over which those mighty southern winds hurl themselves, as if they wanted to swallow them up in large pieces.
The stillness in which there is room for such noises and movements must be immense, and when one thinks that to all that is added the distant presence of the sea, joining in with its note, perhaps the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish for you, that you may confidently and patiently let this mighty loneliness work upon you. Nothing will be able to strike it out of your life afterwards. In every experience and action that lies before you it will, as a nameless influence, have a continued and imperceptibly decisive effect upon you, something after the manner in which our forefathers’ blood stirs unceasingly within us and joins itself to our own to form that unique and unrepeatable thing, that we ourselves are in all the changes of our life.
Yes, I rejoice that you have this solid, definite existence, the title and the uniform, the service and all those tangible and limited things, which, in such surroundings, in the company of a handful of men alike isolated, assume an earnestness and become a necessity, which above and beyond the game and pastime of a military career constitute an employment that demands vigilance, and which do not only leave room for, but actually themselves train an independent watchfulness. That we should be in situations, which work upon us and bring us from time to time face to face with the great things of nature
—that is all that is necessary.
Art, too, is only a form of life, and by living in no matter what way one can be unconsciously preparing oneself for it; in every real career one is nearer to art and more its neighbour than in those unreal half-artistic careers, which pretend to be near to art, but in practice deny and attack the existence of all art
—somewhat in the manner of all journalism and nearly all criticism, and three-quarters of what is and would like to be called literature. In a word I rejoice that you have overcome the danger of falling into those professions, and that somewhere in a hard reality you are lonely and courageous. May the year that lies before you keep you and strengthen you in it.
R. M. RILKE.
Translated by K.W Maurer