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Letters to a Young Poet

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Written by Rainer Maria RilkeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen MitchellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Stephen Mitchell

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: February 16, 2011
Pages: 128 | ISBN: 978-0-307-78723-1
Published by : Vintage Knopf
Letters to a Young Poet Cover

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Letters written over a period of several years on the vocation of writing by a poet whose greatest work was still to come.

Excerpt

Paris
February 17, 1903

Dear Sir,
Your letter arrived just a few days ago. I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I cannot discuss your verses; for any attempt at criticism would be foreign to me. Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren't all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, who life endures beside our own small, transitory life.

With this note as a preface, may I just tell you that your verses have no style of their own, although they do have silent and hidden beginnings or something personal. I feel this most clearly in the last poem, "My Soul." There, something of your own is trying to become word and melody. And in the lovely poem "To Leopardi" a kind of kinship with that great, solitary figure does perhaps appear. Nevertheless, the poems are not yet anything in themselves, not yet anything independent, even the last one and the one to Leopardi. Your kind letter, which accompanied them, managed to make clear to me various fault that I felt in reading your verses, though I am not able to name them specifically.

You ask 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 you 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 root into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether 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 is 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 witness to this impulse.


From the Hardcover edition.
Rainer Maria Rilke|Stephen Mitchell

About Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke - Letters to a Young Poet

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Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) is one of the greatest lyric German poets. Born in Prague, he published his first book of poems, Leben und Lieber, at age nineteen. He met Lou Salomé, the talented and spirited daughter of a Russian army officer, who influenced him deeply. In 1902 he became a friend, and for a time the secretary, of Rodin, and it was during his twelve-year Paris residence that Rilke enjoyed his greatest poetic activity. In 1919 he went to Switzerland where he spent the last years of his life. It was there that he wrote his last two works, Duino Elegies (1923) and The Sonnets to Orpheus (1923).

About Stephen Mitchell

Stephen Mitchell - Letters to a Young Poet
Stephen Mitchell was born in Brooklyn in 1943 and studied at Amherst, the University of Paris, and Yale. Considered one of the preeminent translators of his generation, he has translated many classic texts including Gilgamesh, The Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, and The Book of Job.
Praise

Praise

"The common reader will be delighted by Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of that slim and beloved volume by Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet . . . the best yet."
--Los Angeles Times


From the Hardcover edition.

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