Monday, December 31, 2012

Life and Art: Powerful Principles and the Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

I have decided that today I am going to have a guest writer, (well actually 2, but you'll have to read on to see why.....), fill in for part of my "Positive Insights" post, so let me introduce him.

His name is Rainer Maria Rilke and he was born in Prague in 1875 and died of leukemia just after reaching his 51st birthday at a Swiss Sanatorium in 1926. He is considered one of the most significant, if not the greatest, modern poet of the German language and his work focuses on the joining together of minds and spirits in an age of rampant disillusionment and isolation. Rilke's vast understanding of the anxieties of the era he was living in led him to write incredibly haunting lyrical prose and verse, but it is his letters to a young poet that I would like to focus on.

In 1903 Rilke received a letter from a fledgling poet, known only as Mr. Kappus, who was deeply enmeshed in self-doubt and seeking his advice. He responded and thus began an incredible relationship which lasted intermittently over a period of 5 years through a series of intensely introspective letters. There were only 10 total and they have been bound together, published and are now collectively known and as "Letters to a Young Poet." At the time Rilke was writing these letters he himself was still struggling, (albeit, he had found some measure of success), and it was through his own observations and perceptions of these fortunes and failures and the society that had brought them that were the cornerstone of his letters. Rilke's prose positively sings and it speaks to integrity, idealism and the beauty of creativity, and what is so amazing is that the Principles he outlines in his letters are as relevant today as they were 100+ years ago when he wrote them seeking to help another struggling artist.

When I first read Rilke's letters 20 years ago, I was so overwhelmed, astounded and moved, that I experienced what I can only describe as a "deer in the headlights" gut reaction: how do I process all this incredible insight and incorporate it into my life? I think I was too young then to accomplish this and so it wasn't until I recently reread them that I was able to distinguish some of the concepts set out in each letter. The only way to share Rilke's thoughts and wondrous observations is to offer a condensed version of his letters and I unfortunately did not have an extra 3 weeks to achieve this, so I have found someone who has. His name is Robert Genn and here is his incredibly accurate, inspired and accomplished summary of Rilke's letters:

* Your work needs to be independent of others' work.
~ You must not compare yourself to others.
* No one can help you. You have to help yourself.
~Criticism leads to misunderstandings and defeatism.
* Work from necessity and your compulsion to do it.
~ Work on what you know and what you are sure you love.
* Don't observe yourself too closely, just let it happen.
~ Don't let yourself be controlled by too much irony.
* Live in and love the activity of your work.
~ Be free of thoughts of sin, guilt and misgiving.
* Be touched by the beautiful anxiety of life.
~ Be patient with the unresolved in your heart.
* Try to be in love with the questions themselves.
~ Love your solitude and try to sing with its pain.
* Be gentle to all of those who stay behind.
~ Your inner self is worth your entire concentration.
* Allow your art to make extraordinary demands on you.
~ Bear your sadness with greater trust than your joy.
* Do not persecute yourself with how things are going.
~ It's good to be solitary, because solitude is difficult.
* It's good to love, because love is difficult.
~ You are not a prisoner of anything or anyone.

Through this list Robert Genn has given all of us an amazing connection to the heartfelt guidelines set down in Rilke's letters, concepts to consider, to digest and to incorporate in our daily lives. I think I'll choose one, reflect on it awhile and start today....
Will you join me?

Thank you to both of the amazing artists for letting me feature their work as examples of one of the essentials of Rilke's writings, which is forming a style and individuality independent from others work. I chose these 2 pieces because they are very similar in many ways despite the different mediums, yet totally unique and diverse in their respective art forms. In other words, find your own artistic voice singing in your soul and share your personal vision with the world!

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