Viareggio, near Pisa, Italy,
5th April, 1903.
You must forgive me, my dear Sir, that it is only to-day that I remember with gratitude your letter of the 24th February. I was unwell the whole time, not exactly ill, but suffering from a kind of influenza-weakness, which rendered me incapable of doing anything. Finally, as my health would not change at all, I came to this salutary southern sea, which helped me once before, but I am not yet returned to health and I find writing difficult, so you must take these few lines for more.
Naturally you must know that every letter of yours will always delight me; you must only be indulgent about the answer, which will probably often leave you empty-handed; for at bottom, and just in the profoundest and most important matters, we are inexpressibly alone, and for one man to be able to advise or even help another, many things must happen, many things must succeed, a whole constellation of circumstances must converge, for it once to turn out happily.
I should only like to say two things to you to-day. First:
Do not allow yourself to be mastered by irony, especially in uncreative moments. In creative moments try to make use of it, but only as one more means to grasp hold of life. If its use is pure, it is itself pure also, and one must not be ashamed of it. If you feel that you are too familiar with it, if you are afraid of your growing familiarity with it, then turn to great and solemn objects, before which it becomes small and helpless. Seek the depth of things, for irony never penetrates there
—and when you go thus to the edge of what is great, find out at the same time whether this form of comprehension arises from a necessity of your being. Under the influence of solemn events, it will either fall away from you, if it is a thing of chance, or, if it really belongs to you and is innate in you, it will grow stronger and become a serious tool and take its place among the means by which you will have to build up your art.
And the second thing I should like to tell you to-day is this:
Of all my books there are only a few which are indispensable to me, and two of them are actually always among my belongings, wherever I am. I have them with me here, too, the Bible and the books of the great Danish poet, Jens Peter Jacobsen. I wonder whether you know his works. You can easily get hold of them, for some of them have appeared in a very good translation in “Reclams Universal Bibliothek.” Get hold of the little volume, “Six Stories,” by J. P. Jacobsen and of his novel, “Niels Lyhne,” and in the first little volume begin the first story which is called “Mogens.” A world will come over you, a happiness, a wealth, a world of inconceivable greatness. Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all, love them. This love will be repaid a thousandfold, and, whatever may become of your life will, I am convinced of it, run through the fabric of your being as one of the most important among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments and joys.
If I am to speak of the sources from which I learnt anything concerning the nature of creative work, concerning its depths and its everlastingness, there are only two names which I can mention: that of Jacobsen, that great, great poet, and that of Auguste Rodin, the sculptor, who has not his equal among all the artists who are living to-day.
And may happy fulfilment in everything attend upon the paths of your life.
RAINER MARIA RILKE.
Translated by K.W Maurer