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You ask if your verses are good. You ask me. You have previously asked to others. You send them to journals. you compare them with other poems, and you are troubled when certain editors reject your efforts.
Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you go give all that up.
You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you.
This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple « I must », then build your life according to this necessity; your life must, right to its most unimportant and insignificant hour, become a token and a witness of his impulse. The draw near to Nature. Then try, as if you were one of the first men, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.
Do not write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and usual: they are the most difficult, for great and fully matured strength is needed to make an individual contribution where good and in part brilliant traditions exist in plenty. Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your own everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty -depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory.
If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. And even if you were in a prison whose walls allowed none of the sounds of the world to reach your senses, would you not still have always your childhood, that precious, royal richness, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention there.
Try to raise the submerged sensations of that distant past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will extend itself and will become a twilit dwelling which the noise of others passes by in the distance. And if from this turning inwards, from this sinking into your private world, there come verses, you will not think to ask anyone whether they are good verses. You will not attempt, either, to interest journals in these works: for you will see in them your own dear genuine possession, a portion and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity. In this manner of its origin lies its true estimate: this is no other. Therefore, my dear Sir, I could give you no advice but this:
to go into yourself and so explore the depths whence your life wells forth; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create.
Accept it as it sounds, without enquiring too closely into every world. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take your fate upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking for that reward which might come from without. For the creator must be a world for himself, and find everything within himself, and in Nature to which he has attached himself.
Perhaps however, after this descent into yourself and into your aloneness, you will to renounce your claim to become a poet; (it is sufficient, as I have said, to feel that one could live without writing, in order not to venture it at all). But even then this introversion which I beg of you has not been in vain. Your life will at all events find thenceforward its individual paths; and that they may be good and rich and far reaching I wish for you more than I can say.
An extract from the book « Letters to a young poet » by Rainer Maria RILKE
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