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Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke

Published by Vintage/Random House in 1984
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2002


In an amazing series of letters, Rilke offers encouragement and lessons in maturity to a young poet. In these letters one can sense the depth of spirituality from which Rilke's poetry springs. Rilke tells him the best response to illness is to have the "patience of one who is sick and the confidence of one who is recovering." He explains the good intentions of illnesses and other problems in life are so important to one's development that one should embrace one's problems and reject the impulse to give a name to them; that the very act of naming them can create a stumbling block to one's recovery from them. How much the present age lacks this simple wisdom offered by this great poet.

How does one know how much benefit one has received from the defects and problems of childhood that one would else rail against? The answer Rilke says is that one doesn't know and therefore the possibility exists that the very source of one's character lies in the problems of childhood.

An old adage goes, "a hammer shatters glass and forges steel." Rilke's words to his young friend reminds one that life hammers us all and one must choose to be glass or steel. Better to choose to be the steel than to curse the hammering - the choice is in the realm of everyone's volition, but it's one that must be made alone. The public, if one should poll them for a suggestion, will choose to avoid the hammering. To mature, however, one must savor the hammering as Rilke did in his life, and as he suggests his young friend do.

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