The 90 Page Book That's Taking Me Four Years To Read
February 9, 2015
When I graduated high school, my sister gave me a book called Letters To A Young Poet and I've been trying to finish it for over four years. The book is a collection of letters written by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke just after the turn of the century to a young man who attends the same school and happens upon Rilke's published works. In addition to the letters is some background on Rilke to give you some context as to what is going on in his life as he's writing these letters.
It isn't a long book, it really is the length of a book that you could probably finish in a solid day of reading so every time I pick it up again - I'm now on my fourth try - I ask myself why I haven't finished it yet. Inevitably, I come back to the conclusion that the reason I read it so slowly is that the words speak incredibly loudly to me. Every line, particularly in the first three or four letters, resonates so much with me that I end up poring back over each page two to three times, afraid that I'll miss something. So I end up not making progress very fast.
I had lost track of it in the midst of moving a few months ago and I recently found my copy in an odd box.
Along with my favorite bookmark!
Rilke's prose, even in these letters, is unmistakably that of a poet, which adds to both the beauty and the density of his words. One of the most poignant parts that I've read so far is in the first letter when he addresses creative compulsion:
"You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all - ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? (16)"
He specifically talks of writing, but I extrapolate this passage to any creative endeavor. For me, it helps to refocus on how important I consider music to be. This passage also strongly advises seeking internal fulfillment from your art before ever worrying about what other people think of it, "a work of art is good if it springs from necessity. (17)" That sentiment shows up several more times throughout the parts that I've read so far and it's very encouraging in general, not even specifically as it relates to writing or art.
I am determined to finish the book this time. It comes in time to interrupt my study of Tolkien works, but I'm getting bogged down in the appendix of Return of The King anyways. Plus, I feel the need to complete this as something that I've left undone for years now. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially if you have any sort of creative passion. It's a good read and, while not what I would call quick, it's only 90 pages. When I talked with my sister about it, she hit the nail on the head saying that Rilke's wisdom comes off so much more strongly because he doesn't act like he knows how strongly it will come off, even over 100 years later. My only regret is that I haven't finished it three times already.