In this treasury of uncommon wisdom and spiritual insight, the best writings and personal philosophies of one of the twentieth century's greatest poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, are gleaned by Ulrich Baer from thousands of pages of never-before translated correspondence.
The result is a profound vision of how the human drive to create and understand can guide us in every facet of life. Arranged by theme-from everyday existence with others to the exhilarations of love and the experience of loss, from dealing with adversity to the nature of inspiration, here are Rilke's thoughts on how to live life in a meaningful way:
Life and Living: "How good life is. How fair, how incorruptible, how impossible to deceive: not even by strength, not even by willpower, and not even by courage. How everything remains what it is and has only this choice: to come true, or to exaggerate and push too far."
Art: "The work of art is adjustment, balance, reassurance. It can be neither gloomy nor full of rosy hopes, for its essence consists of justice."
Faith: "I personally feel a greater affinity to all those religions in which the middleman is less essential or almost entirely suppressed."
Love: "To be loved means to be ablaze. To love is: to shine with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away; to love is to last."
Intimate, stylistically masterful, brilliantly translated, and brimming with the wonder and passion of Rilke, The Poet's Guide to Life is comparable to the best works of wisdom in all of literature and a perfect book for all occasions.
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March 21, 2005
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Excerpt from The Poet's Guide to Life by Rainer Maria Rilke
There is only a single, urgent task: to attach oneself someplace to nature, to that which is strong, striving and bright with unreserved readiness, and then to move forward in one's efforts without any calculation or guile, even when engaged in the most trivial and mundane activities. Each time we thus reach out with joy, each time we cast our view toward distances that have not yet been touched, we transform not only the present moment and the one following but also alter the past within us, weave it into the pattern of our existence, and dissolve the foreign body of pain whose exact composition we ultimately do not know. Just as we do not know how much vital energy this foreign body, once it has been thus dissolved, might impart to our bloodstream!
If we wish to be let in on the secrets of life, we must be mindful of two things: first, there is the great melody to which things and scents, feelings and past lives, dawns and dreams contribute in equal measure, and then there are the individual voices that complete and perfect this full chorus. And to establish the basis for a work of art, that is, for an image of life lived more deeply, lived more than life as it is lived today, and as the possibility that it remains throughout the ages, we have to adjust and set into their proper relation these two voices: the one belonging to a specific moment and the other to the group of people living in it.
Wishes! Desires! What does life know about them? Life urges and pushes forward and it has its mighty nature into which we stare with our waiting eyes.
Life takes pride in not appearing uncomplicated. If it relied on simplicity, it probably would not succeed in moving us to do all those things that we are not easily moved to do . . .
A conscious fate that is aware of our existence . . . yes, how often we long for such a fate that would make us stronger and affirm us. But would such a fate not instantly become a fate that beholds us from the outside, observes us like a spectator, a fate that we would no longer be alone with? The fact that we have been placed into a "blind fate" that we inhabit allows us to have our own perspective and is the very condition of our perspicacious innocence. It is due only to the "blindness" of our fate that we are so profoundly related to the world's wonderful density, which is to say to the totality that we cannot survey and that exceeds us.
Seeing is for us the most authentic possibility of acquiring something. If God had only made our hands to be like our eyes--so ready to grasp, so willing to relinquish all things--then we could truly acquire wealth. We do not acquire wealth by letting something remain and wilt in our hands but only by letting everything pass through their grasp as if through the festive gate of return and homecoming. Our hands ought not to be a coffin for us but a bed sheltering the twilight slumber and dreams of the things held there, out of whose depths their dearest secrets speak. Once out of our hands, however, things ought to move forward, now sturdy and strong, and we should keep nothing of them but the courageous morning melody that hovers and shimmers behind their fading steps.
For property is poverty and fear; only to have possessed something and to have let go of it means carefree ownership!
To look at something is such a wonderful thing of which we still know so little. When we look at something, we are turned completely toward the outside by this activity. But just when we are most turned toward the outside like that, things seem to take place within us that have longed for an unobserved moment, and while they unfold within us, whole and strangely anonymous, without us, their significance begins to take shape in the external object in the form of a strong, convincing, indeed their only possible name. And by means of this name we contentedly and respectfully recognize what is happening inside us without ourselves touching upon it. We understand it only quietly, entirely from a distance, under the sign of a thing that had just been alien and in the next instant is alienated from us again.