May 4, 2011


The Sower (study), by Vincent van Gogh

I know that your profession is difficult and contrary to your nature. I cannot remove your distress; I can only urge you to consider whether all occupations are not challenging and hostile in some measure to one's individuality, and saturated with the resentments of those who grimly and sullenly pursue them from duty only. The situation in which you must live now is not more burdened with conventions, prejudices and errors than any other—and even if some occupation appears to offer greater freedom, it is a rare person who is able to stay open to the great matters that shape authentic living. Only the person who accepts solitude can place himself under the deep laws of the universe. When he steps into the fresh morning or out into the event-filled evening, all that is not him falls away, as if he had died, although he stands in the teeming midst of life.

Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet


  1. Rilke learned very young the truth of military life. In the article on Rilke in the Reading Glasses section of this site, by Derek Jeter of "Paying Attention to the Sky" (thanks again, Andrew), Jeter writes:

    At ten years old. in prescribed uniform and haircut, Rene found himself abandoned to an emotionally repressive, loudly regulated, hyper masculine world. He cooperated as well as he could, but his five years there were hateful to him. . . . (Even thirty years later, he would characterize that experience as carrying for him “the feeling of one single terrible damnation.”)

    Imagining this soul constrained in a military school, where he was lonely but not alone, bullied and tormented, makes this letter to Franz Kappus ring a solemn bell of truth and understanding. I especially appreciate what he writes that ". . . even if some occupation appears to offer greater freedom, it is a rare person who is able to stay open to the great matters that shape authentic living."

    Think of times of prosperity, and how easy it is to skate along without bearing down into the depths under the surface.

  2. ruth this takes me back to the decade i worked in a factory. tremendous learning toook place but the cost is still being dealt with! steven

  3. Ohhhhhh.

    i have great need to spend time with this.

    ruth, those are the precise lines that strike out at me, as though to lash. humbling and dampening, that perhaps it's not quite possible for everyone to be authentic.


  4. mmmmm
    to be able to let all shed away and find solitude in the carnival, and in the solitude life. I have these times but much too rare.
    I was a bad factory worker, actually a bad everything as monotony can never fill me for long.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!