Monday, April 19, 2010

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!
Have a wondrous week all....

Please visit both their Shops on Etsy:


  1. kristin~ i am deeply touched by your writing and the inspiring words of these individuals...such wisdom and clarity and authenticity for all of us who are working to find and reveal our creative and deepest selves. This 'list' truly provides a perspective and heart-place from which we might all live and work - thank you so much for sharing and for the honor of including one of my pieces in your beautiful post.
    hugs and much love,

  2. Kristin, once again your words touch my heart. Thank you so much for sharing Rilke and Genn with all of us, and for choosing these two extraordinarily beautiful works of art to express Rilke's principles! I've already chosen my principle for this week! :)
    xoxo Mollie

  3. a wonderful posting, Kristin..I've always loved Rilke's work and especially one, that Genn has included: love the questions themselves..Thanks for taking the time to do this!And, for adding the two artists work as wonderful visuals!

  4. Thank you for sharing Kristen. This is beautiful! I will be reflecting and re-reading this list.

  5. I love this wording... "the beautiful anxiety of life." How many of us find our anxiety to be beautiful? But so much beautiful art and music comes out of that anxiety!

    Sometimes artists, especially young artists, want to do something so completely different that we venture into the realm of things we do not know. I, for one, try to follow the advice of "work on what you know and on what you are sure you love" in my visual art and my songwriting.

    Thanks for sharing this post, Kristin. There are many things here on which to meditate for many, many days! And the artwork you included is gorgeous and perfect for the post.

  6. What a wonderful post,Kristin! I love Rilke's beautiful prose and it’s so great to hear more about the person behind such amazing creativity. Thanks for sharing Robert Genn's summary of Rilke's letters,and thanks for introducing these wonderful artists on Etsy shops...

    Efi Warsh

  7. kristin, thanks for sending me this link, this was good to read. wonderful post by you :) i've shared it with my friends. xo paula

  8. kristen--

    what an inspiring post- i'm printing this list out to keep tacked up near me in my studio-- the words ring out so true and resonate deeply for all who read them-- i'm sure!-- they certainly are profoundly beautiful and very helpful reminders --especially when it's so easy to lose sight of what matters when dealing with the day in day out tasks of life..

    thanks so much-- and so lovely to see karon and ali's work accompanying the words!