User:UDScott/Rilke in progress

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.

Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 - 29 December 1926) is generally considered the German language's greatest poet of the 20th century; born René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke.


  • Just as language has no longer anything in common with the thing it names, so the movements of most of the people who live in cities have lost their connexion with the earth; they hang, as it were, in the air, hover in all directions, and find no place where they can settle.
    • Worpswede (1903)
  • Du im Voraus
    verlorne Geliebte, Nimmergekommene,
    nicht weiß ich, welche Töne dir lieb sind.
    Nicht mehr versuch ich, dich, wenn das Kommende wogt,
    zu erkennen.
    • Translation: You who never arrived
      in my arms, Beloved, who were lost
      from the start,
      I don't even know what songs
      would please you.
      I have given up trying
      to recognize you in the surging wave of the next
    • You Who Never Arrived (as translated by Stephen Mitchell) (1913-1914)
  • Ach, die Gärten bist du,
    ach, ich sah sie mit solcher
    Hoffnung. Ein offenes Fenster
    im Landhaus—, und du tratest beinahe
    mir nachdenklich heran. Gassen fand ich,—
    du warst sie gerade gegangen,
    und die spiegel manchmal der Läden der Händler
    waren noch schwindlich von dir und gaben erschrocken
    mein zu plötzliches Bild.—Wer weiß, ob derselbe
    Vogel nicht hinklang durch uns
    gestern, einzeln, im Abend?
    • Translation: You, Beloved, who are all
      the gardens I have ever gazed at,
      An open window
      in a country house-, and you almost
      stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
      Streets that I chanced upon,—
      you had just walked down them and vanished.
      And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
      were still dizzy with your presence and, startled,
      gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows?
      perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us
      yesterday, separate, in the evening...
    • You Who Never Arrived (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)
  • Schon ist mein Blick am Hügel, dem besonnten,
    dem Wege, den ich kaum begann, voran.
    So fasst uns das, was wir nicht fassen konnten,
    voller Erscheinung, aus der Ferne an—

    und wandelt uns, auch wenn wirs nicht erreichen,
    in jenes, das wir, kaum es ahnend, sind;
    ein Zeichen weht, erwidernd unserm Zeichen...
    Wir aber spüren nur den Gegenwind.

    • Translation: Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunny one,
      at the end of the path which I've only just begun.
      So we are grasped, by that which we could not grasp,
      at such great distance, so fully manifest—

      and it changes us, even when we do not reach it,
      into something that, hardly sensing it, we already are;
      a sign appears, echoing our own sign...
      But what we sense is the falling winds.

    • Spaziergang (A Walk) (March 1924)
  • I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
    to truly consecrate the hour.
    I am much too small in this world, yet not small
    to be to you just object and thing,
    dark and smart.
    I want my free will and want it accompanying
    the path which leads to action;
    and want during times that beg questions,
    where something is up,
    to be among those in the know,
    or else be alone.
    • I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone, st. 1 (as translated by Annemarie S. Kidder)
  • The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.
    • Wendung (Turning Point) (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)
  • He was a poet and hated the approximate.
    • The Journal of My Other Self
  • Death is the dies of life which is turned away from us.
    • Letter to W. von Hulewicz

Rilke and Benvenuta: an Intimate Correspondence


Trans. Joel Agee

  • Children rest in love...but then they are still pure in their illusion that it is possible to belong to someone; and when they say 'mine', they make no claim to ownership; they hug and let go, and when they do hold on, it is God with whom they are still enmeshed, who draws the others to himself through their innocently open arms.
  • If I were to tell you where my greatest feeling, my universal feeling, the bliss of my earthly existence has been, I would have to confess: It has always, here and there, been in this kind of in-seeing, in the indescribably swift, deep, timeless moments of this divine seeing into the heart of things.
  • Oh my heart feels like a spring, and next to it lies my old deep sullen well, let it, I'm not drawing from it these days.
  • Take a good look through the well-aimed telescope, there's a small bright spot -do you have it? -that is my heart, you can't make it out.
  • For therein, too, lies my power, that I do not impede the most secret powers within me.
  • Don't forget that I belong to solitude, that I must not need anyone, that all my strength is born from this detachment.
  • To speak of love is to speak of hardness.
  • May I be granted that, in your hands, the habit of looking on love as a thing to accomplish will leave, like an old pain- and that, slowly raising my eyes to look at you, I would no longer know where it had hurt- or where it had been.
  • To be loved means to be consumed. To love is to give light with inexhaustible oil. To be loved is to pass away, to love is to endure.
  • The most fleeting of relation between people is governed by the state of mind they bring to it -now at once a vastness will enter into it if that vastness is there to begin with.
  • We know that we love each other from a time before the earth began, from a childhood before all the ages of being, we love each other from the womb of existence, as the stars would love one another if they knew of their splendor.
  • Never has language seemed wondrous to me in another, or how you make me love language. Do we not speak to each other as the stars speak to earth and the earth to the stars? Just that our speech is not silence, not comic silence, but language, the language of human beings.
  • It is music then, that would speak [of love]. But when music speaks, it does not speak to us. The perfect work of art touches us on our condition only that it outlives us.
  • Music is closer to us, then; it streams toward us; we stand in its way, but then it goes right through us. It is almost like a higher air, we draw it into the lungs of spirit and it gives us a greater blood in the secret circulation.
  • When I saw others straining toward God, I did not understand it, for though I may have had him less than they did, there was no one blocking the way between him and me, and I could reach his heart easily. It is up to him, after all, to have us, our part consists of almost solely in letting him grasp us.
  • What is sacrifice? I believe it is nothing other than the boundless, no longer limitable resolve of a human being to reach his purest inner potential.
  • For a strength,...for an inconquerable strength of heart, from which my true strength for God will only begin to develop, that strength must be firmly tied to what is human, otherwise it will break in those heights where no one can help it any longer, and wither away in the air.
  • For one who is not pure has many enemies everywhere and is not safe from them. Only a pure being walks right through his enemy, shaking him to the core.
  • Oh purity: Is it still possible? Is it possible still to be pure again? Is there a spring that would not be polluted by washing away one's shamefulness? Can such stained water still show itself in nature, which knows waste and ordure, but no evil, nothing opposed to herself, for she encompasses even what is most alien within her.

Das Stundenbuch (The Book of Hours) (1899-1903)

  • Extinguish my sight, and I can still see you;
    plug up my ears, and I can still hear;
    even without feet I can walk toward you,
    and without mouth I can still implore.
    Break off my arms, and I will hold you
    with my heart as if it were a hand;
    strangle my heart, and my brain will still throb;
    and should you set fire to my brain,
    I still can carry you with my blood.
    • Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder
  • Ich bin auf der Welt zu allein und doch nicht allein genug,
    um jede Studen zu weihen.
    Ich bin auf der Welt zu gering und doch nicht klein genug,
    um vor dir zu sein wie ein Ding,
    dunkel und klug.
    Ich will meinen Willen und will meinen Willen begleiten
    die Wege zur Tat;
    und will in stillen, irgendwie zörgernden Zeiten,
    wenn etwas naht,
    unter den Wissenden sein
    oder allein.
    • Translation: I am too alone in the world, and yet not alone enough
      to make every hour holy.
      I am too small in the world, and yet not tiny enough
      just to stand before you like a thing,
      dark and shrewd.
      I want my will, and I want to be with my will
      as it moves towards deed;
      and in those quiet, somehow hesitating times,
      when something is approaching,
      I want to be with those who are wise
      or else alone.
    • Number 2 (as translated by Cliff Crego)

Das Buch der Bilder (The Book of Images) (1902)

  • Aus unendlichen Sehnsüchten steigen
    endliche Taten wie schwache Fontänen,
    die sich zeitig und zitternd neigen.
    Aber, die sich uns sonst verschweigen,
    unsere fröhlichen kräfte—zeigen
    sich in diesen tanzenden Tränen.
    • Translation: Out of infinite longings rise
      finite deeds like weak fountains,
      falling back just in time and trembling.
      And yet, what otherwise remains silent,
      our happy energies—show themselves
      in these dancing tears.
    • Initiale (Initial) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
  • Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war seht groß.
    Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
    und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.
    • Translation: Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
      Let thine shadows upon the sundials fall,
      and unleash the winds upon the open fields.
    • Herbsttag (Autumn Day) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
  • Der Abend wechselt langsam die Gewänder,
    die ihm ein Rand von alten Bäumen hält.
    • Translation: Slowly the evening changes into the clothes
      held for it by a row of ancient trees.
    • Abend (Evening) (as translated by Cliff Crego)

Neue Gedichte (New Poems) (1907-1908)

  • Wie soll ich meine Seele halten, daß
    sie nicht an deine rührt? Wie soll ich sie
    hinheben über dich zu andern Dingen?
    Ach gerne möchte ich sie bei irgendetwas
    Verlorenem im Dunkel unterbringen
    an einer fremden stillen Stelle, die
    nicht weiterschwingt, wenn diene Tiefen schwingen.
    Doch alles, was uns anrührt, dich und mich,
    nimmt uns zusammen wie ein Bogenstrich,
    die aus zwei Saiten eine Stimme zieht.
    Auf welches Instrument sind wir gespannt?
    Und welcher Geiger hat uns in der Hand?
    O süßes Lied.
    • Translation: How shall I hold on to my soul, so that
      it does not touch yours? How shall I lift
      it gently up over you on to other things?
      I would so very much like to tuck it away
      among long lost objects in the dark,
      in some quiet, unknown place, somewhere
      which remains motionless when your depths resound.
      And yet everything which touches us, you and me,
      takes us together like a single bow,
      drawing out from two strings but one voice.
      On which instrument are we strung?
      And which violinist holds us in his hand?
      O sweetest of songs.
    • Liebes-Lied (Love Song) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
  • Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes
    schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehen,
    gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.

    Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
    jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehen,
    seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen—:

    in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
    und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen,
    unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut;
    während er unendlich still und sicher
    immer mündiger und königlicher
    und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

    • Translation: This difficult living, heavy and as if all tied up,
      moving through that which has been left undone,
      is like the not-quite-finished walk of the swan.

      And dying, this slipping away from
      the ground upon which we stand every day,
      is his anxious letting himself fall—:

      into the waters, which receive him gladly
      and which, as if happily already gone by,
      draw back under him, wave after wave;
      while the swan, infinitely calm and self-assured,
      opener and more magnificent
      and more serene, allows himself to be drawn on.

    • Der Schwan (The Swan) (as translated by Cliff Crego)
  • Die nächste Flut verwischt den Weg im Watt,
    und alles wird auf allen Seiten gleich;
    die kleine Insel draußen aber hat
    die Augen zu; verwirrend kreist der Deich

    um ihre Wohner, die in einem Schlaf
    geboren werden, drin sie viele Welten
    verwechseln schweigend, denn sie reden selten,
    und jeder Satz ist wie ein Epitaph

    • Translation: The next tide will erase the way through the mudflats,
      and everything will be again equal on all sides;
      but the small, far-out island already has its
      eyes closed; bewildered, the dike draws a circle

      around its inhabitants who were born
      into a sleep in which many worlds
      are silently confused, for they rarely speak,
      and every phrase is like an epitaph.

    • Die Insel I (The Island I) (as translated by Cliff Crego)

Der Panther (The Panther) (1907)

  • Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
    so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
    Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
    und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

    Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
    der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
    ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
    in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

    Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
    sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
    geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
    und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

    • Translation: His tired gaze - from passing endless bars -
      has turned into a vacant stare which nothing holds.
      To him there seem to be a thousand bars,
      and out beyond these bars exists no world.

      His supple gait, the smoothness of strong strides
      that gently turn in ever smaller circles
      perform a dance of strength, centered deep within
      a will, stunned, but untamed, indomitable.

      But sometimes the curtains of his eyelids part,
      the pupils of his eyes dilate as images
      of past encounters enter while through his limbs
      a tension strains in silence
      only to cease to be, to die within his heart.

    • As translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

In Celebration of Me (1909)

  • I am so afraid of people's words.
    They describe so distinctly everything:
    And this they call dog and that they call house,
    here the start and there the end.

    I worry about their mockery with words,
    they know everything, what will be, what was;
    no mountain is still miraculous;
    and their house and yard lead right up to God.

    I want to warn and object: Let the things be!
    I enjoy listening to the sound they are making.
    But you always touch: and they hush and stand still.
    That's how you kill.

    • Translated by Annemarie S. Kidder

Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge) (1910)


Trans. M.D. Herter Norton

  • But now that so much is changing, is it not up to us to change ourselves? Could we not develop ourselves a little, and slowly take upon ourselves our share of work in love, little by little?
  • For as yet I did not understand fame, that public destruction of one in the process of becoming, into whose building-ground the mob breaks, displacing his stones.
  • Fate loves to invent patterns and designs. Its difficulty lies in complexity. But life itself is difficult because of its simplicity. It has only a few things of grandeur not fit for us.
  • Nothing in the world can one imagine beforehand, not the least thing. Everything is made up of so many unique particulars that cannot be foreseen.
  • I have never been aware before how many faces there are. There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.
  • I am learning to see. I don't know why it is, but everything penetrates more deeply into me and does not stop at the place where until now it always used to finish. I have an inner self of which I was ignorant. Everything goes thither now, what happens there I do not know.
  • When one speaks of solitaries, one always takes too much for granted, one supposes that people know what one is talking about. No, they do not. They have never seen a solitary, they have simply hated him without knowing him.
  • The loneliness I had brought upon myself and to the greatness of which my heart no longer stood in any sort of proportion. People came to my mind whom I had once left, and I did not understand how one could forsake people.
  • For verses are not, as people imagine, simply feelings (those one has early enough), -they are experiences. For the sake of a single verse, one must see many cities, men and things, one must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the little flowers open in the morning.
  • For sometime now I have believed that it is our own force, all our own force that is still too great for us. It is true that we do not know it; but is it not just that which is most our own of which we know the least?
  • For centuries now, they [women] have performed the whole of love; they have always played the full dialogue, both parts. For the man has only imitated them, and badly. And has made their learning difficult with his inatentiviness, with his negligence, with his jealousy.
  • The woman who loves always transcends the man she loves, because life is greater than fate. Her devotion wants to be immeasurable; that is her happiness.

Duino Elegies(1922)

Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure and are awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us...
  • Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
    hierarchies? and even if one of them suddenly
    pressed me against his heart, I would perish
    in the embrace of his stronger existence.

    For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
    which we are barely able to endure and are awed
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    Each single angel is terrifying.
    • First Elegy (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)
  • Look, we don't love like flowers with only one season behind us; when we love, a sap older than memory rises in our arms.
    • Third Elegy
  • Never think destiny's more than the substrate of childhood: how often you'd catch up with a lover, panting, panting, from the happy chase, into the open forever.
    • Seventh Elegy
  • And we: spectators, always, everywhere, looking at everything, and never from!...Who's turned us around like this, so that whatever we do, we always have the look of someone going away? Just as a man on the last hill showing him his whole valley one last time, turns, and stops, and lingers -so we live, and are forever leaving.
    • Eighth Elegy
  • Why, then, do we have to be human and, avoiding fate, long for fate?
    • Ninth Elegy
  • Our heart survives between hammers, just as the tongue between teeth is still able to praise.
    • Ninth Elegy
  • And we who have always thought of joy as rising, would feel the emotion that almost amazes us when a happy things falls.
    • Tenth Elegy
  • Yes, the springtime was in need of you. Often a star
    waited for you to espy it and sense its light.

    A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
    or as you walked below an open window,
    a violin gave itself to your hearing.
    All this was trust. But could you manage it?
    Were you not always distraught by expectation,
    as if all this were announcing the arrival
    of a beloved?
  • A tree ascended there. Oh pure transendence!
    Oh Orpheus sings! Oh tall tree in the ear!
    And all things hushed. Yet even in that silence
    a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.
    • Translated by Stephen Mitchell
  • They more adeptly bend the willow's branches
    who have experience of the willow's roots.
    • Sonnet 6 (as translated by Edward Snow)
  • When you go to bed, don't leave bread or milk
    on the table: it attracts the dead.
    • Sonnet 6 (as translated by Edward Snow)

Imaginärer Lebenslauf (Imaginary Life Journey) (September 13, 1923)

  • Erst eine Kindheit, grenzenlos und ohne
    Verzicht und Ziel. O unbewußte Lust.
    Auf einmal Schrecken, Schranke, Schule, Frohne
    und Absturtz in Versuchung und Verlust.

    Trotz. Der Gebogene wird selber Bieger
    und rächt an anderen, daß er erlag.
    Geliebt, gefürchtet, Retter, Ringer, Sieger
    und Überwinder, Schlag auf Schlag.

    Und dann allein im Weiten, Leichten, Kalten.
    Doch tief in der errichteten Gestalt
    ein Atemholen nach dem Ersten, Alten...

    Da stürzte Gott aus seinem Hinterhalt.

    • Translation: First a childhood, limitless and without
      renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
      Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
      and collapse into temptation and loss.

      Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
      and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
      Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
      and conqueror, blow by blow.

      And then alone in cold, light, open space,
      yet still deep within the mature erected form,
      a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one...

      Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.

    • As translated by Cliff Crego

Letters to a Young Poet (1934)

  • 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, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.
    • Letter One (February 17, 1903)
  • 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 whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
    • Letter One (February 17, 1903)
  • A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity.
    • Letter One (February 17, 1903)
  • I could give you no advice but this: to go into yourself and to explore the depths where your life wells forth.
    • Letter One (February 17, 1903)
  • Irony: Do not let yourself be governed by it, especially not in unproductive moments. In productive ones try to make use of it as one more means of seizing life.
    • Letter Two (April 5, 1903)
  • No experience has been too unimportant, and the smallest event unfolds like a fate, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another thread and is held and supported by a hundred others.
    • Letter Three (April 23, 1903)
  • Read as little as possible of literary criticism - such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word-games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view. Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism.
    • Letter Three (April 23, 1903)
  • Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
    • Letter Four (July 16, 1903)
    • Variant: Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. (as translated by Stephen Mitchell)
  • If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.
    • Letter Four (July 16, 1903)
  • Sex is difficult; yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult; almost everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious. If you just recognize this and manage, out of yourself, out of your own talent and nature, out of your own experience and childhood and strength, to achieve a wholly individual relation to sex (one that is not influenced by convention and custom), then you will no longer have to be afraid of losing yourself and becoming unworthy of your dearest possession.
    • Letter Four (July 16, 1903)
  • Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments.
    • Letter Four (July 16, 1903)
  • The great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed of all false feelings and reluctances, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings.
    • Letter Four (July 16, 1903)
  • Through such impressions one gathers oneself, wins oneself back from the exacting multiplicity, which speaks and chatters there (and how talkative it is!), and one slowly learns to recognize the very few Things in which something eternal endures that one can love and something solitary that one can gently take part in.
    • About Rome
    • Letter Five (October 29, 1903)
  • As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build Him. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start Him whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us. And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time. Is there anything that can deprive you of the hope that in this way you will someday exist in Him, who is the farthest, the outermost limit?
    • Letter Six (December 23, 1903)
  • Love is something difficult and it is more difficult than other things because in other conflicts nature herself enjoins men to collect themselves, to take themselves firmly in the hand with all their strength, while in the heightening of love the impulse is to give oneself wholly away.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.
    To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • Young people, who are beginners in everything, cannot yet know love: they have to learn it.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • Love is at first not anything that means merging, giving over and uniting with another (for what would a union be of something unclarified and unfinished, still subordinate?), it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become world, to become world for himself for another's sake. It is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • The demands which the difficult work of love makes upon our development are more than life-size, and as beginners we are not up to them. But if we nevertheless hold out and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in all the light and frivolous play, behind which people have hidden from the most earnest earnestness of their existence — then a little progress and alleviation will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us; that would be much.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • Young people -it is obvious -cannot achieve such a relationship, but they can, if they understand their life properly, grow up slowly to such happiness and prepare themselves for it. They must not forget, when they love, that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love- must learn love, and that like all learning wants peace, patience, and composure.
    • On young couples who have not yet matured enough to recognize and respect each other's solitude
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.
    • Letter Seven (May 14, 1904)
  • It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, - is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.
    • Letter Eight (August 12, 1904)
  • If only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.
    • Letter Eight (August 12, 1904)
  • There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other thing that oppress you - : is just what I have already said: just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people. And as for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.
    • Letter Nine (November 4, 1904)
  • All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom.
    • Letter Nine (November 4, 1904)
  • It must be immense, this silence, in which sounds and movements have room, and if one thinks that along with all this the presence of the distant sea also resounds, perhaps as the innermost note in this prehistoric harmony, then one can only wish that you are trustingly and patiently letting the magnificent solitude work upon you, this solitude which can no longer be erased from your life; which, in everything that is in store for you to experience and to do, will act as an anonymous influence, continuously and gently decisive, rather as the blood of our ancestors incessantly moves in us and combines with our own to form the unique, unrepeatable being that we are at every turning of our life.
    • Letter Ten (December 26, 1908)
  • Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art - as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature.
    • Letter Ten (December 26, 1908)
  • I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. For, if it lies in the nature of indifference and of the crowd to recognize no solitude, then love and friendship are there for the purpose of continually providing the opportunity for solitude. And only those are the true sharings which rythmically interrupt periods of deep isolation.
  • To be an artist means: not to reckon and count, to ripen like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storm of Spring without fear lest no Summer might come after.
  • Resolve to be always beginning -to be a beginner!
  • For believe me, the more one is, the richer is all that one experiences.
  • Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty -depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you.
  • Then take your fate upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking for that reward which might come from without.
  • At bottom no one in life can help anyone else in life; this one experiences over and over in every conflict and every perplexity: that one is alone.
  • Self-transformation is precisely what life is.
  • There is scarcely anything more difficult than to love one another. That is work, day labor, day labor, God knows there is no other word for it.
  • Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasuure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work.
  • So whoever loves must try to act as if he had a great work: he must be much alone and go into himself and collect himself and hold fast to himself; he must work; he must become something!
  • Human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling, from minute to minute, and lovers are those whose relationships and contact no one moment resembles another.
  • All companionship can consist only in the strengthening of two neighboring solitudes, whereas everything that one is wont to call giving oneself is by nature harmful to companionship: for when a person abandons himself, he is no longer anything, and when two people both give themselves up in order to come close to each other, there is no longer any ground beneath them and their being together is a continual falling.
  • I am of the opinion that 'marriage' as such does not deserve as much emphasis as it has acquired through the conventional development of its nature. It does not occur to anyone to expect a single person to be 'happy' -but if he marries, people are much suprised if he isn't.
  • Marriage is, in many respects, a simplification of one's way of life, and the union naturally combines the forces and wills of two young people so that, together, they seem to reach farther into the future than before. -Only, those are sensations by which one cannot live.
  • Above all, marriage is a new task and a new seriousness, -a new challenge to and questioning of the strength and generosity of each partner and a great new danger for both.
  • A good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow.
  • Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, an wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky.
  • Poetic power is great, strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms in itself and breaks out as out of mountains.

Rilke's Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985)

  • Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further. The further one goes, the more private, the more personal, the more singular an experience becomes, and the thing one is making is, finally, the necessary, irrepressible, and, as nearly as possible, definitive utterance of this singularity.
    • Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (June 24, 1907)
  • Ideally a painter (and, generally, an artist) should not become conscious of his insights: without taking the detour through his reflective processes, and incomprehensibly to himself, all his progress should enter so swiftly into the work that he is unable to recognise them in the moment of transition. Alas, the artist who waits in ambush there, watching, detaining them, will find them transformed like the beautiful gold in the fairy tale which cannot remain gold because some small detail was not taken care of.
    • Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 21, 1907)
  • Painting is something that takes place among the colors, and ... one has to leave them alone completely, so that they can settle the matter among themselves. Their intercourse: this is the whole of painting. Whoever meddles, arranges, injects his human deliberation, his wit, his advocacy, his intellectual agility in any way, is already disturbing and clouding their activity.
    • Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 21, 1907)
  • Just as the creative artist is not allowed to choose, neither is he permitted to turn his back on anything: a single refusal, and he is cast out of the state of grace and becomes sinful all the way through.
    • Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 23, 1907)
  • He [Cézanne] reproduced himself with so much humble objectivity, with the unquestioning, matter of fact interest of a dog who sees himself in a mirror and thinks: there’s another dog.
    • Letter to his wife, reprinted in Rilke’s Letters on Cézanne (1952, trans. 1985). (October 23, 1907)
  • Not since Moses has anyone seen a mountain so greatly.
    • Quoted in Rilke's Letters on Cézanne, foreword (1952, trans. 1985).
  • Somehow I too must find a way of making things ; not plastic, written things, but realities that arise from the craft itself. Somehow I too must discover the smallest constituent element, the cell of my art, the tangible immaterial means of expressing everything.

Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke (1960)

  • What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.
  • To young people I would always like to say just this one thing (it is almost the only thing I know for certain up to now) -that we must always hold to the difficult; that is our part: We must go so deep into life that it lies upon us and is burden: not pleasure should be about us, but life.
  • He who does not at some time, with definite determination consent to the terribleness of life, or even exalt in it, never takes possession of the inexpressible fullness of the power of our existence.
  • How many times in my life -and never so much as now, have I told myself that Art, as I conceive it, is a movement contrary to nature.
  • Whoever does not consecrate himself wholly to art with all his wishes and values can never reach the highest goal. He is not an artist at all.
  • To hold our innermost conscience alert, which with every fully formed experience tells us whether it is thus, as it now stands, altogether to be answered for in its truthfulness and integrity: that is the foundation of every artistic production.
  • For the woman -according to my conviction -a child is a completion and a liberation from all strangeness and insecurity: it is, spiritually too, the mark of maturity.
  • The longer I live, the more necessary it seems to me to endure, to copy the whole dictation of existence to the end, for it might be that only the last sentence contains that small, perhaps inconspicuous word through which all laboriously learned and not understood orients itself toward glorious sense.
  • These fears that fell to my lot out of every day stirred a hundred other fears, and they stood up in me against me and agreed among themselves, and I couldn't get beyond them. In striving to form them, I came to work creatively on them; instead of making them into things of my will, I only gave them a life of their own which they turned against me.
  • The reality of any joy in the world is indescribable, only in joy does creation happen (happiness, on the contrary, is only a promising and interpretable pattern of things already existing); joy, however, is a marvelous increasing of what already exists, a pure addition out of nothingness.
  • For myself, those things that have died, in dying, entered my own heart.
  • These are the days of turning toward the innerself, of increasingly taking possession of oneself, which, under apparent repose, goes on in the most intimate workings of the heart.
  • Oh, how I believe in it, in life. Not that which makes up our time, but that other, the life of little things, the life of animals and of the great plains.
  • Life is very singularly made to suprise us (where it does not utterly appall us).
  • There is an element of death in life, and I am astonished that one pretends to ignore it: death, whose unpitying presence we experience in each turn of fortune we survive because we must learn how to die slowly. We must learn to die: all of life is in that.
  • So deeply does death lie within the nature of love that death contradicts love at no point;...where else, finally, but into the heart itself may death thrust the unutterable things we bear in our hearts.
  • I reproach all modern religions for having presented to their faithful the consolations and extenuations of death, instead of giving their souls the means of getting along with death and coming to an understanding of death, with its complete and unmasked cruelty.
  • Let happy memories sustain you if your strength fails you, they are always there, and their current does not run backwards, even across foggy country it floats toward the future.
  • Religion is something infinitely simple, ingenuous. It is not knowledge, not content of feeling (for all content is admitted from the start, where a man comes to terms with life), it is not duty and not renunciation, it is not restriction: but in the infinite extent of the universe it is a direction of the heart.
  • I feel that to work is to live without dying. I am full of gratitude and joy. For since my earliest youth I have wanted nothing but that.


  • Everywhere I am folded, there I am a lie.
  • If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.
  • Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.