While I am slowly making my way through more than 600 pages of Sophie’s Choice, I am actually a little behind on book reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.
Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from German by Stephen Mitchell
This small volume was written 1903–1908 but its advice still feels relevant and wise, which is presumably why it quickly became a classic.
Franz Xaver Kappus was put in touch with Rilke by the chaplain at his military academy, who had known Rilke when he too was a student at the school 15 years earlier. Kappus aspired to write and Rilke was a revered (rightly so) poet. These 10 letters constitute Rilke’s advice on how to look at life as well as how to write and some non-advice observations from Rilke such as his thoughts on Rome (he was not a fan) and other places he travelled to (all the letters seem to be written from a different location, and often include reference to months spent somewhere else in-between).
What most caught my attention was Rilke’s thoughts on gender equality. He was a feminist if ever I read one. He truly believed that the two sexes were created equal and that society still unfairly favoured men as a relic from a bygone age when man’s superiority of strength and size was relevant to everyday life. Rilke not only believes that the time will come when women will be considered equal in all respects to man, he also thinks that in time women will take their turn as the gender running the show.
Rilke is sweet, earnest, but also troubled. He’s also extremely eloquent. Because he’s Rilke.
“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would 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.”
Briefe an einen jungen Dichter published 1929 by Insel Verlag.
This translation first published 1984 by Random House.
Source: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin.
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