Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Rainer Maria Rilke to Adolf Bonz

Im Rheingau, Berlin-Wilmersdorf
[December] 25, 1897 .

want to speak to you in all sincerity now . . . about the poems. You see, my view on this point is purely subjective, and it must be and must remain so. It is not my way to write poems of epic or lyric style that can stand five to ten years of desk air without becoming deathly sick. Short stories and dramas are results that do not age for me, poems, which accompany every phase of my spiritual longing, are experiences through which I ripen. Short stories are chapters, poems are continuations, short stories are an appeal to the public, courtings of its favor and interest, poems are gifts to everyone, presents, bounties; with a short-story book in my hand, I am a petitioner before those who are empty, with poems in my heart, I am king of those who feel. A king, however, who would tell his subjects in ten years how he felt ten years ago, is a sham.

Seven sketchbooks full of things I am burning to utter await my choice, and they must be said either now or never. But because I knew that I would want to say them, I have undertaken to mark each lyric period by a book. Since the Dream Crowned period, seven sketchbooks have come into being and an eighth is begun which seems to me to indicate an entirely new stage. So it is my plain duty to settle accounts with these ripe riches, that is, to commit what is good in them either to the fire or to the book trade. I prefer the latter, for my books have had success, that is, they have awakened here a smile, there a love, there a longing, and have given me an echo of that love, the reflection of that smile and the dream of that longing and have thereby made me richer and riper and purer. Please understand me, I grow up by them, they are my link with the outside, my compromise with the world. Now I can defend the verses as episodes, as little moments of a great becoming, as real, deep spring: if ever I have a name, they would be misunderstood as final products, as maturities, mistaken for summer. I cannot keep my springtime silent in order to give it out some day in summer, old and faded, and were I untrue to my resolve, which for four years has been fulfilled in Life and Songs, Wild Chicory, Offerings to the Lares, Dream Crowned, all further publication, seeming to me a betrayal then, would probably cease too. But I am earnestly sworn to persevere, and this whole attitude is so bound up with my life that I cannot dismiss it. Quite the contrary, if I ever have a name, that is, have become (and the becoming is much too glorious for me to long for that) , then the poems will be entirely superfluous; a selection can then be made, a complete edition which will then also have something about it of a comprehensive result but then they will be blossoms, memories of spring, lovely and warm with the summer that lies over their stillness. Until then is further than from today until tomorrow. What I am saying today is nothing but the word "heart's need" of the other day, a rocket sent into the air, bursting into these thousand words of my innermost conviction. And valued and dear as your advice is to me, you will now not take it amiss any more if I do not follow it, but do everything to consecrate a new book of poems, Days of Celebration, to young '98. I cannot do otherwise, so help me God. . .

-from The Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke 1892-1910 translated by Jane Bannard Greene and H. D. Herter Norton (New York: W. W. Norton, 1945)

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