致一位青年诗人的信Letters to a Young Poet(8)

Borgeby gard, Fladie, Sweden

August 12, 1904

Iwant to talk to you again for a little while, dear Mr. Kappus, although thereis almost nothing I can say that will help you, and I can hardly find one usefulword. You have had many sadnesses, large ones, which passed. And you say thateven this passing was difficult and upsetting for you. But please, ask yourselfwhether these large sadnesses haven't rather gone right through you. Perhapsmany things inside you have been transformed; perhaps somewhere, someplace deepinside your being, you have undergone important changes while you were sad. Theonly sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carryaround in public in order to drown them out with the noise; like diseases thatare treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a shortinterval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and arelife, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of. Ifonly it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, andeven a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bearour sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are themoments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings growmute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, andthe new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and saysnothing.

Itseems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feelas paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Becausewe are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; becauseeverything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; becausewe stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That iswhy the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has beenadded, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is nolonger even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don't know what itwas. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we havechanged, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can't say who hascome, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the futureenters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens.And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one issad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our futuresteps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidentalpoint of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, themore patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely thenew presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more itbecomes our fate; and later on, when it "happens" (that is, stepsforth out of us to other people), we will feel related and close to it in ourinnermost being. And that is necessary. It is necessary - and toward this pointour development will move, little by little - that nothing alien happen to us,but only what has long been our own. People have already had to rethink so manyconcepts of motion; and they will also gradually come to realize that what wecall fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us. It isonly because so many people have not absorbed and transformed their fates whilethey were living in them that they have not realized what was emerging fromthem; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion and fear, they thoughtit must have entered them at the very moment they became aware of it, for theyswore they had never before found anything like that inside them. just aspeople for a long time had a wrong idea about the sun's motion, they are evennow wrong about the motion of what is to come. The future stands still, dearMr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.

Howcould it not be difficult for us?

Andto speak of solitude again, it becomes clearer and clearer that fundamentallythis is nothing that one can choose or refrain from. We are solitary. We candelude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all. Buthow much better it is to recognize that we are alone; yes, even to begin fromthis realization. It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that oureyes used to rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything nearus, and everything far away is infinitely far. A man taken out of his room and,almost without preparation or transition, placed on the heights of a greatmountain range, would feel something like that: an unequalled insecurity, anabandonment to the nameless, would almost annihilate him. He would feel he wasfalling or think he was being catapulted out into space or exploded into athousand pieces: what a colossal lie his brain would have to invent in order tocatch up with and explain the situation of his senses. That is how alldistances, all measures, change for the person who becomes solitary; many ofthese changes occur suddenly and then, as with the man on the mountaintop,unusual fantasies and strange feelings arise, which seem to grow out beyond allthat is bearable. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We mustaccept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even theunprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end the only kind ofcourage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual,most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that people have inthis sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the experiences thatare called it apparitions, the whole so-called "spirit world," death,all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our dailydefensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which wemight have been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God. Butthe fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of theindividual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being andanother, which has as it were been lifted out of the riverbed of infinitepossibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank, where nothinghappens. For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to berepeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it istimidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don't think we candeal with. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn't excludeany experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship withanother person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his ownbeing. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smallerroom, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of theirroom, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walkingback and forth. In this way they have a certain security. And yet how much morehuman is the dangerous in security that drives those prisoners in Poe's storiesto feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to theunspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps orsnares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten orupset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with,and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come toresemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunatemimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have noreason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. Ifit has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belongto us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrangeour life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must alwaystrust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will becomeour most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancientmyths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that atthe last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in ourlives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beautyand courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence,something helpless that wants our love.

Soyou mustn't be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you,larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light andcloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You mustrealize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you,that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why do you want toshut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since afterall you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do youwant to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming fromand where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst oftransitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there isanything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is themeans by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simplyhelp it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, sincethat is the way it gets better. In you, dear Mr. Kappus, so much is happeningnow; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like some onewho is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor,who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days whenthe doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you areyour own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.

Don'tobserve yourself too closely. Don't be too quick to draw conclusions from whathappens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you tolook with blame (that is: morally) at your past, which naturally has a share ineverything that now meets you. But whatever errors, wishes, and yearnings ofyour boyhood are operating in you now are not what you remember and condemn.The extraordinary circumstances of a solitary and helpless childhood are sodifficult, so complicated, surrendered to so many influences and at the sametime so cut off from all real connection with life that, where a vice entersit, one may not simply call it a vice. One must be so careful with namesanyway; it is so often the name of an offense that a life shatters upon, notthe nameless and personal action itself, which was perhaps a quite definitenecessity of that life and could have been absorbed by it without any trouble.And the expenditure of energy seems to you so great only because you overvaluevictory; it is not the "great thing" that you think you haveachieved, although you are right about your feeling; the great thing is thatthere was already something there which you could replace that deception with,something true and real. Without this even your victory would have been just amoral reaction of no great significance; but in fact it has be come a part ofyour life. Your life, dear Mr. Kappus, which I think of with so many goodwishes. Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the"great thing"? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the greatthing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult,but that is also why it will not cease to grow.

Andif there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don't think thatthe person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simpleand quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure. His life has much trouble andsadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would neverhave been able to find those words.


RainerMaria Rilke
















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