Viareggio, near Pisa, Italy, 23rd April, 1903.
Your Easter letter, my dear Sir, has caused me much joy; for it spoke much good of you, and the manner in which you spoke of Jacobsen’s great and lovely art, showed me that I have not been wrong in leading your life and its many questions to this well of plenteousness.
Now “Niels Lyhne” will disclose itself to you, a book of the things of grandeur and of depth. The more one reads it, the more it seems to contain everything from the most delicate fragrances of life to the full and grand flavours of its hardest fruits. In it there is nothing that has not been understood, grasped, experienced and recognised in the vibrating echoes of the memory; no experience has been too small, the slightest occurrence unfolds itself like a destiny. Destiny itself is like a wonderful broad web in which each thread is pulled by an infinitely tender hand and is laid by the side of another and held up and borne along by hundreds of others. You will experience the happiness of reading this book for the first time, and will pass through countless surprises, as in a new dream. But I can tell you that later, too, one always remains the same wonderer when going through these books, and that they lose nothing of the wonderful force and relinquish nothing of the fabulousness with which they overwhelm the reader the first time.
The enjoyment of them and the gratitude only grows ever greater, and one’s way of looking at things becomes somehow better and simpler, one’s belief in life deeper and one’s life itself more blessed and more significant.
Later you must read the wonderful book of the fate and the yearning of “Marie Grubbe,” and Jacobsen’s letters and journal and fragments, and finally his verses, which though only moderately translated live in unending music. [For that purpose I should advise you to buy at your convenience the beautiful edition of Jacobsen’s collected works, which contains all that. It appeared in Leipzig in three volumes in a good translation at Eugen Diederichs and, I think, only costs 5 or 6 marks a volume.]
In your opinion about “Here should roses stand . . .”
—that work so incomparable in its delicacy and form—you are of course quite, quite indisputably in the right against the man who wrote the introduction. And I may as well make this request of you here: read as few works of aesthetic criticism as possible—there are in them either partisan opinions which have become petrified and meaningless in their lifeless obduracy, or else a clever play of words, with which to-day one view finds favour and tomorrow the opposite. Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and nothing can reach them so little as criticism. Only love can grasp them and keep hold of them and be just to them. Always trust yourself and your own feelings as opposed to any such analysis, review or introduction; if you should be wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and in time to new realisations. Allow your judgments their own quiet, undisturbed development, which like all progress must come from deep within you and cannot be forced or hastened by anything. The whole thing is to carry the full time and then give birth; to let every impression and every germ of a feeling consummate itself entirely within itself, in that which is dark, inexpressible, unconscious and unattainable by your own intelligence, and to await the hour of the delivery of a new clearness of vision. That alone is to live an artistic life, in understanding, as in creating.
In that there is no measuring with time; no year is of any value and ten years are as nothing. To be an artist is this: not to count or to reckon: to ripen like a tree which does not force its sap, but in the storms of spring stands confident without being afraid that afterwards no summer may come. The summer comes all right. But it only comes to the patient, to those who are there as carefree and quiet and immense, as if eternity lay before them. Daily I learn, learn it through my sufferings [to which I am grateful] that patience is everything.
—and I may say the same thing of the man, whom I know slightly—have the following effect upon me, that, when I have found one of his beautiful pages, I am always afraid of the next, which may upset everything again and pervert the lovable into the unworthy. You characterised him very well with the expression: “sensual life and sensual poetry”—and it is undoubtedly a fact that artistic experience has such an inconceivably close connection with sexual experience, with its pain and its desire, that the two phenomena are actually nothing but two different forms of one and the same yearning and bliss. And if instead of sensuality one could say sex—sex in its great, wide and pure sense, free from the suspicion cast upon it by errors of the Church—then his art would be very great and infinitely important. His poetical power is great and strong as a primeval impulse. It has its own independent rhythms, and breaks forth from him like a stream from the mountains.
But I think that this power is not always quite sincere and without pose [this is actually one of the severest tests for the creator: he must always remain unconscious, without an idea of his greatest qualities, if he does not want to rob them of their naivet
é and their virginity!] And then, when rushing through his being it comes to the sexual, it finds there a man who is not so utterly pure as it needed him to be. Here is a sexual world that is not quite ripe and pure, one that is not human enough but only male, one that is sensuality, intoxication and restlessness, burdened with the old prejudices and insolence with which man has deformed and burdened love. Because he only loves as a man and not as a human being, therefore there is in his sexual sensibility a narrowness, an ostensible wildness and hate, something transient and mortal, which detracts from his art and renders it ambiguous and undecided. It is not without defect, it is marked by time and by passion and little of it will last and endure. [But most art is like that!] But in spite of that, one can get deep enjoyment, from what is great in it, and must only take care not to lose oneself in it and not to become an adherent of Dehmel’s world, which is so infinitely frightened, full of adultery and confusion, and far removed from those our actual destinies, which cause more suffering than these transient troubles, but at the same time give more opportunity for greatness and more courage for eternity.
Lastly as far as concerns my books, I should have liked best of all to send you all those that could give you any pleasure, but I am very poor, and, once they have been published, my books no longer belong to me. I cannot myself buy them, and, as I should so often like, give them to those who would handle them with affection.
So I have written down for you on a scrap of paper the titles and publishers of my latest books
—of the most recent only—in all I have published about 12 or 15—and I must leave it to you, dear Sir, to order some of them for yourself at your own convenience.
I like to know that my books are in your hands.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Translated by K.W Maurer