on September 18, 2010
Rilke's letters to Franz Kappus were written between 1903 and 1908. They were first published in German in 1929. In 1934 H. D. Herter Norton produced the first English translation (revised by her in 1954). The second English translation that I know of was done by Reginald Snell in 1945 and published in London by Sidgwick and Jackson. The edition being offered here is the Snell translation--only his name and the original publication data have been stripped from the book. (Other than that, the book is essentially a photocopy of the 1945 edition.)
The publisher here is "BN Publishing" which I assume means "Barnes & Noble" (although the "about us" link on their website says almost nothing about them!).
The Snell translation seems to me quite adequate. Here is a sample of one sentence done by three translators:
"And this more human love...will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other." -- H. D. Herter Norton (1934)
"And this more human love...will be something like that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love which consists in the mutual guarding, bordering and saluting of two solitudes." -- Reginald Snell (1945)
"And this more human love... will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other." -- Stephen Mitchell (1984)
Of these three, the Norton seems to me to have the best cadence, but beyond that Rilke's sense is present in all.
One does wonder, however, why BN Publishing felt free to erase this book's origins.
One other oddity to note: If you click on "see inside this book," Amazon shows you the Stephen Mitchell edition, not the Snell edition, giving this rather confusing explanation: "This view is of the Mass Market Paperback edition (1986) from Vintage. The Paperback edition (2009) from BN Publishing that you originally viewed is the one you'll receive if you click the Add to Cart button at left."
on September 20, 2008
There are works that surface time and time again in cultural circles, in film, literature, music, etc. One of these is Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. The young poet, Franz Xaver Kappus, is unremarkable in this set of letters as we never see the poems he sent to Rilke, nor do we see his end of the correspondence. Yet, what Kappus realizes, and so too the reader, is that his offerings are absolutely unnecessary because we see them through Rilke's eyes. Rilke readily assumes the mantle of humble mentor, dispensing pearls of wisdom in a language that teaches the young Kappus that not all poetry is written in stanzas.
One wonders if Rilke was indeed writing to the world. His replies to Kappus are lofty but sincere, and filled with passages that seem destined for quotation:
"Do not search now for the answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them. It is a matter of living everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, one distant day live right into the answer."
For Rilke, bite-size gifts of mature sophistry (in the Classical sense of the word) will not suffice. In these letters to Kappus, Rilke seizes the opportunity to work out his own philosophy through provocative and probing questions. We learn that Kappus, during the course of his military service, has lost faith in God, and Rilke asks him, "Is it not much rather the case that you have never yet possessed him? ... Do you believe a child can hold him, him whom men bear only with difficulty, whose weight bows down on the aged?" Rilke is ready to be not only a literary mentor, but a theological counselor.
No subject is taboo for Rilke, who quite readily addresses sexual intimacy as he does some rather unconventional thoughts about women:
"Surely women, in whom life tarries and dwells more immediately, fruitfully and confidently, must have become fundamentally more mature human beings, more human human beings, than light man, whom the weight of no body's fruit pulls down beneath the surface of life, who, conceited and rash as he is, underrates what he thinks he loves."
Even in his criticisms of Kappus (both of his work and his character) he is ever gentle, crafting his words with the care of both poet and teacher. He is self-effacing, but sure in his prose. He tells the young Kappus: "And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become aware, it must become criticism." However, in the four year gap between the letter that contained those words and what would be his last letter to Kappus, we see that his final offering is tinged by reality and somewhat removed from the more romantic musings of his earlier letters:
"Art too is only a way of living, and one can prepare for it, living somehow, without knowing it; in everything real one is a closer, nearer neighbour to it than in the unreal semi-artistic professions which, while they make show of a relatedness to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art, as for instance the whole of journalism does, and almost all criticism and three quarters of what calls itself and likes to be called literature. I am glad, in a word, that you have overcome the danger of ending up there, and remain solitary and courageous somewhere in a raw reality."
As the translator comments, Kappus did indeed end up "there," publishing several "cheap popular novels." But in the end, the debt to Kappus is greater than his debt to, or at least reverence for, Rilke. The letters capture the spirit of a man, not yet old, but weathered by experience. In Kappus' military station Rilke saw much of himself, having been pressured to enter a military academy at a young age. We get a sense that Rilke is writing to a younger version of himself, encouraging the hope and youth that inspired him to write in his poem, "To Celebrate Myself":
"I long to be a garden at whose fountains
my thronging dreams would pluck themselves new blooms."
A reader of Rilke's letters will indeed be ready to grasp a garden full of blooms.
on June 18, 2011
This collection of letters written by Rainer Rilke should be given to young students in every educational institute in the world as material to help shape their own consciousness. It is a short (around 43 pages long), yet extremely meaningful and enlightening piece of work that features nearly no filler material due to its length. As the these were originally letters written by Rilke in response to a friend, Franz Kappus, who was on the road to a life in the military, they are direct in subject matter and act as if Rilke is speaking directly to you, rather than Kappus. The beauty of this is that the letters were written over 110 years ago, yet when you read them now they are written in such a timeless way that they could have been written at any point in history.
The letters struck a cord in me quite promptly as I started reading them, and effectively finished the book in one sitting - fully engrossed in Rilke's writing. Rilke discusses many matters with Kappus, firstly stating how, when creating art, it needs to come from your innermost being: "go into yourself and see how deep the place is which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether or not you must create"
Rilke continues to discuss love, how meaningless criticism is from outside sources are on art you have put your soul into to create, the importance of solitude, and how important it is to not get involved in questioning life constantly, as it will always answer your question in time. I'll end this review with a quote from the book that is conclusive and leaves you with an incentive to read this wonderful work!
"I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn't disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer."
on November 25, 2010
"Confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write." These words have challenged many young aspiring writers since they were written in the early 1900's. Rilke's ten letters to Mr. Kappus are pithy, endearing, and challenging. We are taken far beyond the banalities of technique, syntax, and grammar. Rilke speaks to the keening of a writer's soul. He inspires a person to live the unresolved questions in their hearts. In these letters we come to understand that writing is not a profession. Rather, it is a way of living. It is observation, it is a constantly changing perspective, it is spiritual, and it is solitary.
These ten letters contain exhortations to disciplines not often taught in the classroom. It is a breviary for the writer, indeed for all artists who easily get lost in their own imaginings. When our own generations are looking for quick fixes and easy means to and end, Rilke states, "for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason to do it. It is also good to love; because love is difficult." He rightly challenges us that to attain anything of value it must come with devotion and sacrifice.
After reading and rereading this book many times throughout my life as a writer, I can say that I am still moved and inspired by Rilke's sagacity and acumen. Letters to a Young Poet is a treatise on how to not only discover one's creative nature, but to forever hone one's instincts and craft.
on February 7, 2010
It seems to me a bit awkward and out of place to either rate this book or review it. There is no such thing as "a ranking" over such work. RMR has a talent some will see and others will not. His talent is to plainly materialize into words the deepest questions and interests one may manifest over existence. The ideas and principles he expresses in these 10 letters to Mr. Kappus (the "young poet") may serve as a reference for anyone who has ever thought why we are here and what is there to do because of it. Again, some will see the point, others will find it void. What I like about RMR is that -as a writer- he touches philosophy, psychology, literature, and poetry without any particular body of study, except his own intuition and inner voice. If we could all be in contact with our inner self to that extent, we may even decide according to our best.