Friday, August 24, 2007

Rilke on Poetry - Letter 1

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a series of ten letters to the aspiring poet, Franz Xaver Kappus. This was a response to Kappus' desire for critical and constructive feedback from the poet. Kappus asks the loaded question of Rilke, "Are my verses good?"
Rilke perceives that he is not the first to have been asked that by Kappus, namely that Kappus has submitted his work to editors and been rejected. Rilke responds,

I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only a single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all - ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night:
must I write? . . . And if this should be affirmative . . . then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.

And if out of this turning inward, out of this absorption into your own world
verses come, then it will not occur to you to ask anyone whether they are good verses.


Anonymous said...

This is the only thing I remember from that book. Whenever I get frustrated with writing, I think of this passage and realize I don't HAVE to write. My answer to Rilke's question is a negative.

Unknown said...

I don't know that I have answered that question yet. I am too afraid of his advice towards those who in answer in the negative which is to not attempt it at all (being a poet that is). These poets are just too dramatic.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

"Like some first human being" - this is wonderful, because it gets at something we all tend to forget, to let slip away in the ordinariness of our identification with things, namely that life is always already a first, something that as ours exists ex nihilo. This account of the absorption into "one's own world" as I understand it is not subjectivity as normally thought of, as the 'private' space of reaction and negotiation to the world, but a being in the presence of the foundational structure of one's own being, before which relativistic distinctions disappear.

Which reminds me of your question over at In the Middle about the link between the sacred and reality in the Middle Ages as well as something I will be writing on for a conference next year, "the sorrow that one is," from the Cloud of Unknowing. That is one book I can recommend, along with Julian of Norwich, as places to investigate this relation. Though late medieval mysticism tends to be read in the context of affective piety, these works are unmistakably grounded in the pursuit of direct experience of reality. The sacred, as I tend to think of it, is what happens 'around' that experience. Cf. Agamben reading of the halo as "something like the vibration of that which is perfect, the glow at its edges . . . the individuation of a beatitude, the becoming singular of that which is perfect." In these terms one could say that the sacred, which is always localized (a sacred thing, place, person), is the singularity of the the experience of the real.

Unknown said...

The sacred, as I tend to think of it, is what happens 'around' that experience.

This is very much my emerging sense of the sacred. What continues to guide my thinking is the absence between cherubim's wings situated in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle around which all of reality is engaged, interpreted and constructed.

I will certainly have to start reading some more Agamben given the references you keep dropping.