writers un-block – the magic of rilke

with rilke nearby, it is hard to remain for very long in a state of writers block. that is, that which you need to write may not get written but that which you are compelled to put down in words may emerge from you. or perhaps that is the type of fanciful, giving over of oneself to the word that comes from repeated readings of this poet’s musings. in particular, i enjoy returning every so often to his collection of letters* written in response to a younger poet — rilke only in his late 20s when he begins this correspondence, yet wise beyond his years — that i carry with me always in my everyday bag. it’s there, in the back zipper pocket, greeting me occasionally and remind me that it’s there. waiting. patiently.

i am moved to think of letter 1 today because my blog meanderings led me to this blog in which the author makes a note in her about page that she writes because she must. need and must. what do we need? what must we do? are these the same? what’s the difference?

the following is from letter 1, and i’ve highlighted in bold the phrases and words that stood out to me in this latest reading — always new, never the same, just as fresh as the first time, but different.

“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. Don’t write love poems; avoid those forms that are too facile and ordinary: they are the hardest to work with, and it takes a great, fully ripened power to create something individual where good, even glorious, traditions exist in abundance. So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is no poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sound – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of , this turning within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”

*the letters have been translated from german to english, so there are slight variations in the english text depending on the source.
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2 Responses to writers un-block – the magic of rilke

  1. suzicate says:

    Thank you for your shout out. I think I feel I must write because often I have much to say (whether it’s important for anyone to hear it or not is another story entirely), and I find I am much more comfortable writing than I am speaking at times. However, I also find that contemplating these very things is often enough for me…so maybe I’m learning to internalize my thoughts a bit more. I do know that just because I write something it does not mean it is something I should place in public view. Still I struggle to write because it is such an intensely emotional experience for me at times…it pains me and elates me, hard to explain…and there are times I wish I didn’t feel this need..so the question remains is it a must or a need! I only know I feel a great release once I express myself to my own satisfaction.

    • sabonseine says:

      i have sat with your thoughts for a couple of days, in part because of what they evoke about the felt experience of writing. i think of the relationships between pain and beauty, of compulsion and desire, of public and private, of audience and internalization. and about how the different modes of expression we are drawn to in different moments allow us to say and be in different ways — to speak words we couldn’t imagine writing and to write with an ease that may escape us in speech (certainly my case, too!). to be continued…

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