Literature Reviews

‘Letters to a Young Poet’ by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929) – Book Review

By Ciéra Cree - It was during a radio production class one day that I found myself having a conversation about poetry with my lecturer somewhat out of nowhere...

By Ciéra Cree

It was during a radio production class one day that I found myself having a conversation about poetry with my lecturer somewhat out of nowhere. He recommended a book to me, titled Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and when I got home, I had a quick browse online and found a copy.

Letters to a Young Poet isn’t like your typical novel. It’s a short read, consisting of 52 pages split into 10 letters written by the author – a poet born in Prague, 1875 – between the periods of 1903 and 1908. These letters were sent to Franz Kappus, a young aspiring poet, as a means to not only connect with him on a poet-to-poet basis, but also on one of friendship and a variety of other, deeper levels.

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Through the eyes and hearts of two people with a shared passion, these letters delve into many aspects of their lives and their philosophical thoughts. From love and self-doubt, to fear and sadness, and what it means to be solitary. Every letter in the book reveals something interesting and insightful.

I appreciate the structure of this book and how the letters are something that you can go back to again and again to reinterpret. The size of the book is something I like too, both in pagination and overall width and height. It’s an ideal little book to bring along with you on a commute or to enjoy elsewhere. It’s also easy to read it all in one go, as well.

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Regardless of whether you are a writer or not, Letters to a Young Poet is a collection I would recommend to anyone, especially to those of you who love to think, and to those who love to explore the mind of an artist. One of my favourite quotes from the letters is:

‘And your doubts can become a good quality if you school them. They must grow to be knowledgeable; they must learn to be critical’

I interpret this as a lesson about mental health. It’s often easy to let those feelings with negative connotations, such as doubt, spiral out of control and, in doing so, a person can temporarily lose sight of their rationality. As with any other emotion, when we feel them, it is a sign that our body is trying to tell us something; something important. If utilised, or schooled, correctly, doubt could have the ability to become a tool of empowerment and encouragement. We can confront our doubts, addressing them to ensure that they don’t become self-deprecating, and from there, we can act to transform them into constructive criticisms about ourselves.

How about you? What are your thoughts on this quote? Have you read this book?

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