Book Review: Rainer Maria Rilke // Letters to a Young Poet

My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet are like the brutal criticism you get on your test results. Harsh but useful. By sharing these letters, young poets or ambitious writers can learn how Rilke got his reputation and harnessed his splendid writing style.

In essence, Rilke believes that experience is far more worthy than an aesthetic or critical outlook upon a text. By experiencing and applying an experience to words far more can be gained by doing any literary criticism like psychoanalysis or Marxism.

Whilst I aim in my writing to apply books I read to contemporary life — to situate novels in the every day by picking out relevant quotes — I am also a literature student who finds literary criticism fascinating. Why can’t we have both?

Reading is constantly associated with a form of escapism. Living in an alternative world that separates you from your struggles. Rilke seems to share this view — but you must always come back. “Live in these books for a while, learn from them what seems to be worth learning”.

There is nothing more magical than lingering on words and fragmented sentences from novels and constructing your own meaning. Spending too much time pondering over fictional narratives rather than being present in your lecture. However, within those deep moments of concentration, there must be something you are plucking out. Something that will aid you in reality and hold worth.

The above quote is an example. I lingered on this quote whilst reading the small book, I even tabbed it! I wanted to come back to it and I wanted it to have some impact on my life. And here I am now writing about it. I’m using the book I lived in for a while to navigate my life. To push in a direction in terms of writing, education and hopefully in aid of a profession.

Rilke also writes: “In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love come to life again and fill it with majesty and exaltation”. Not only can you live life upon other peoples words, but you can also create words based upon your life. Almost like a process of synesthesia; a word can evoke a multitude of feelings and thoughts and bring back to life the past. Is that not the whole point of keeping a diary?

I’m glad I picked up this little book packed with letters, it gave me a strong background to Rilke’s thoughts. You get a general overview of his views on writing, love, religion and so much more. I’m hopeful for the influence his poetry will have upon my life when I get to cast my eyes upon the stanzas.


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