Letters to a Young Poet

5 years ago by

Letters to a Young Poet

There are those books that you read again and again, and again and again, and again and again. I have a long list of titles that I revisit, and somehow I always find that they get better – like a stinky French cheese – with time.

Perhaps it’s my aging that makes them improve, or perhaps it’s the layering of perspectives that I bring to each successive reading, but either way: it’s magic every time. Right now I am rereading Rainer Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (and I think this might be #17!).

There are books we turn to at different moments of our lives: times that are full of change, happiness, fear, the unknown, times that are just full. I have found that Letters to a Young Poet has helped me gain perspective on them all.


Here is an excerpt from Letter #4, dated July 16, 1903:

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”


What books do you hold close to your heart?


Add yours
  • seems like a really cool book


  • I hope you read it and love it!

  • I revisit Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye again and again. Perhaps my favorite quote from the book is: “Potential has a shelf life.” It slays me.

  • I love Margaret Atwood. And what a beautiful quote! Thank you.

  • mine would be ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’.

  • Such a wonderful book! Now that you mention it… It’s time that I reread that too.

  • I have this edition! Isn’t it just so beautiful? I love this book but while reading it I often wanted to punch Rilke. I just don’t think it’s fair to say that one can be a poet (or writer, musician, painter, whatever) only if it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about before bed. Like, I want to be an artist AND have balance in my life. I think it’s possible to be devoted without going over the deep end.

    That said, it’s been awhile since I read it so maybe my perspective now would be different…

  • Balance! I have to agree with you. This edition is amazing right? I cannot get over how beautiful it is. Thank you for writing!

  • How beautiful! I’m putting this book on my to-read list. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thank you! I hope that you love it.

  • So glad you write about books and about this book in.particular – it is one of my favourites. I love going back to some, Truman Capotes “Short Stories”, for instance. Simple, precise prose. Like a crisp white shirt :) always up to the point. Or Peter Brook’s pieces on theatre – inspirational, it seems that his thoughts on theatre, actors and audience could apply anytime. ’cause “all the world’s a stage”. Rilke’s book has particularly beautiful binding. Could be carried as a OLT clutch :) put your theatre tickets inside, stick your credit card in “library card” triangle and you are all set :)

  • The Thief Lord was a book I first read when I was 12 years old and it seemed pure magic to me. For last 10 years I’ve read it around 10 times and the magic of that book still hasn’t disappeared. It’s hard to explain but somehow that book simply ease my mind.

  • I’m really excited to read it! You make it sound magical. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • Beautiful quote that we can remind ourselves at any age! Thank you for sharing.
    Books dear to my heart are the ones I read in the moment. Then I tend not to keep them but give them away. I’ve just finished “The sweet poison cook” and at the same time finally discovered Arto Paasilinna. A very entertaining read, a tale of great imagination and easy to read at the same time, subtly hilarious, unlike anything I’ve read before.

  • It is so important to read tales of imagination! I’m adding it to my list. Thank you!

  • I’m glad you are talking about books here :) and this is such a good book! One of my favourites, too. Truman Capotes “Short Stories” are another (and regular) source of inspiration – like a crisp, white shirt – they are simple, concise yet work always and everywhere, don’t think too little or too much of a person in white shirt/in his stories. This Rilke’s edition looks beautiful – could be used as a clutch as is – put your theatre tickets among the pages & credit card in a “library card” triangle pocket & you are set. Have a great day.

  • So well said! What could be better, and more refreshing, than a crip, white shirt? And I love your idea to use the edition as a clutch! I just might… And I miss library cards! Thank you for your comment. It made me smile – twice.

  • Looks like a really lovely book. I love anything like this x


  • It seems like a good book to read!


  • I love that you chose this book and have read it a number of times! A fabulous series of philosophical essays, really. As a poetry publisher, of course it is one of my favourites too. I always turn again to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, one if the greats.

  • I haven’t read any Elizabeth Bishop! Where do you recommend I start?

  • I always re-read Anna Gavalda’s books. (She’s French!).
    Hemingway, Remarque.
    The Great Gatsby.
    Jaan Kross (Estonian writer).


  • Some of my all-time favorites, and some new suggestions too! Thank you.

  • I also love Anna Gavalda! -and Arto Paasilinna and Daniel Glattauer’s first book

  • I think that this book maybe beautiful. To me the book that I read over and over and over again is the FOUR AGREEMENT.

  • Thank you for the suggestion! I can’t wait to read it.

  • My favourite i will read all the time is any of Albert Camus essays, they are dreamy..

  • I’ve been meaning to read Albert Camus forever… Thank you for reminding me – I need to bump him up my list!

  • I suggest “The Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz (also the author of “The Four Agreements”). He makes some good points. One of my all-time favorite books, though, is “Jane Eyre.”

  • What a beautiful edition! I’ve read it already three times and you made me want to start the fourth right away :)
    Other books I always go back to are ‘Siddharta’ by Hermann Hesse and ‘Love in the times of cholera’ by Gabriel García Márquez. True wisdom.

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDd2bzXXkvU
    This is: “pour écrire un seul vers de Rilke” by Laurent Terzieff (Was a beautiful and amazing theatre actor).
    Thanks for the post Marina! very inspiring.

  • I remember borrowing this book from friends and reading in by the river during my year in Taiwan. Excellent and valuable book with a lot of insights. I need to revisit it :-) The other one was Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ – also highly recommended.

  • mosaic_world February, 27 2016, 1:58 / Reply

    although I started out as a reader/writer, I don’t think I have particular books I reread. I do consider all of my authors to be my mentors and distant relatives though.

    I like to reread fairy tales (like Grimms) and folk tales to remind myself of the importance of stories. I like to watch Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (film) b/c I like its sense of story, play, fantasy, and metaphysical elements.

    for being patient w/ myself. I try to think about this TED talk by Alain de Botton. https://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success?language=en

    more to the original question, probably some of the most beautiful words I have read come from the book, Patti Smith Complete: Lyrics, Reflections, and Notes for the Future. the funny thing is that I don’t really bond to her style of music but reading her lyrics and poetry is something else.

  • WOw how cool is the design of that book!

  • Hi Marina! Sorry I didn’t respond sooner: E Bishop’s Geography III is the book to start with!

  • Roxanne March, 4 2016, 4:52 / Reply

    C’est un des livres que je veux lire depuis longtemps !!!! C’est clairement L’élégance du hérisson de Muriel Barbery le livre qui m’a le plus marqué voire changé ma manière de voir la vie (le film est excellent aussi !) !

  • Thank you for this brilliant recommendation. I’ve loved reading every word of it! So beautiful and inspiring. I can highly recommend Just Kids by Patti Smith, which is an amazing and poetically written book. Also, the ‘Diary of Anais Nin’ is so beautiful and interesting to read’.’Art and Fear’ by David Bayles is another favourite for different reasons. ‘Naked at the Feast’ which is a great biography on Josephine Baker and ‘Daybook’ by Anne Truitt, which is one of a series of beautifully written journals of an artist. These have been some of my favourite books this year. Have you read any of them?

  • mosaic_world April, 2 2016, 10:38

    I have read Just Kids by Patti Smith. she is a sensitive writer and her relationship with Mapplethorpe is so interesting.

    coincidentally there have been Mapplethorpe photo exhibits locally since I read the book and so it is interesting to see his work in the light of his “portrait” in the book.

  • mosaic_world April, 2 2016, 10:35 / Reply

    I just finished Peggy Guggenheim: The shock of the modern, by Francine Prose. though this is not a book I reread but it reminded me a of a different post about reading more books.

    it was a fascinating read about a woman who lived in a very modern fashion. and though I don’t think she was admirable in everything she did, she also really created a legacy of art in her modern collection. there are some things I can really admire in her business acumen and really kind of helping to shape the direction of an art period. but there are also personal qualities and relationships that can make you grieve in your heart for her. the book definitely makes me want to visit her collection in Venice!

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