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Rainer Maria Rilke

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Rainer Maria Rilke (Fotografie, 18. September 1900) *Public Domain

Today in 1875, my favourite poet — Rainer Maria Rilke — was born in Prague. I think I first read his Letters to a Young Poet before I ever set eyes on his poetry. For me, the mark of a true writer is if he or she understands the limitation of words; on the first page of his first Letter, Rilke acknowledges — “most events are inexpressible, taking place in a realm which no word has ever entered”.

What amazes me about Rilke is his willingness to seek out those inexpressible moments and stitch words together as a humble offering. He comes closer than most in describing what can’t be defined. He speaks of the stars and the sky, yet grounds such lofty sights with tree roots and dirt; he pairs flights with falls and shares the stern beauty of darkness.

Whether you’re reading his letters or his poetry, you see a man connected with everyday humanity as well as the deep mysteries of life. Rilke has taught me that hope is not for the faint-hearted, but it is available for any who choose to step out in faith; Rilke doesn’t offer answers, he hands out invitations to a journey.

I am forever grateful to Rilke who though he felt that “poems don’t come to much when they are written too soon. One should wait and gather the feelings and flavours of a whole life” still put pen to paper over and over and over again; and subsequently to all those who have translated his words that I might read them.

what’s the first piece of Rilke’s you recall reading?

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bet mercer

Bet Mercer is a poet-photographer who writes at Gimme Some Reads and Everyday Poetry. She loves quotes, reading her favourite books over again, great conversation, laughter, trees, films, and travelling the world. Follow along with Bet on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Etsy and Google+.

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6 comments on “Rainer Maria Rilke”

  1. Happy birthday to Rilke! His writings always leave me quieted and inspired. Such an incredible writer.

    I especially love the bell tower quote!

    • quieted & inspired — I like that. yes, I can see that — his inspiration is of a deeper, patient sort which does have a quieting affect. oh Rilke.

  2. That tower shot is perfect. :)

  3. Bet,

    I thought of this post when I saw an awesome write-up of a Dennis Hopper reading Rilke clip.

    That is all.


    • Wow. Thanks so much for both remembering my post and for telling me of this short film! I totally needed to be reminded of this very letter today. Your comment was well timed, Billy.