Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) is one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, working in depth on the lyricism of life. An Austrian, he travelled in many European countries and established lasting relationships of artistic exchange, collaboration, friendship and love with a large number of artists and intellectuals of his time: Lou Andréas Salomé (also Nietsche’s companion, then Freud’s disciple), Auguste Rodin, Léon Tolstoï, André Gide, Paul Valéry, Clara Westhoff, Baladine Klossowska... He exchanged tens of thousands of letters with his friends, which were like the laboratory of his creation. He was, more than others, celebrated during his lifetime, and always remained passionate about in-depth exchanges on the subjects of creation.
One of his books, which is still a worldwide success today, is “Letters to a Young Poet” (written between 1903 and 1908, published posthumously in 1929), a simple compilation of letters to an unknown young man who asked him for advice, an essential guide to life and creation. This book supported many artists’ vocations.
Three quotations from “Letters to a Young Poet”:
For now, live the questions. Perhaps, one day far away, you will enter like this, little by little, without noticing it, inside the answer.
To be an artist means not calculating, not counting, maturing like a tree that does not press its sap, and who, confidently, stands up in the spring storms without fearing that summer may not come.
Look within yourself. Explore the reason that commands you to write; examine whether it is rooted in the depths of your heart; do you confess: would you have to die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, ask yourself in the quietest hours of the night : is it necessary for me to write? Dig within yourself in search of a profound answer. And if the answer is affirmative, if you have to answer this question with a powerful and simple “I can’t do otherwise”, then build your life according to this necessity.
Rainer Maria Rilke’s work is for me a reference point for high standards and humanity in art. I paid him, extremely modestly, a tribute by reading the “Letters to a Young Poet” in front of the Louvre Museum as part of the exhibition “Choses lues, choses vues” by Alain Fleischer at the BnF in 2009-2010.
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