Rilke’s Advice to a Young Poet

You ask me whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you–no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself that you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and a witness to this impulse.

— Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. (tr. Stephen Mitchell) Vintage Books, New York: 1984.

Author: Frances Donovan

I like poetry, long walks on the beach, and net neutrality. Tending the Garden of Words (www.gardenofwords.com) since 1998.

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