Phil Levin

I can only respond by sending you selected excerpts from Rilke’s beloved Letters to a Young Poet, in which the great writer communicates advice to a young admirer, one Mr. Kappus. The passages below are near to my heart.


My Dear Sir,
Your letter only reached me a few days ago. I want to thank you for its great and kind confidence. I can hardly do more. I cannot go into the nature of your verses; for all critical intention is too far from me.


You must forgive me, my dear sir, for only today gratefully remembering your letter of February 24th: I have been unwell all this time, not exactly ill, but oppressed by an influenza-like lassitude that has made me incapable of anything. And finally, as I simply did not get better, I came to this southerly sea, the beneficence of which has helped me once before. But I am not yet well, writing comes hard to me, and so you must take these few lines for more.


Some ten days ago I left Paris, quite ill and tired, and journeyed into a great northerly plain whose breadth and stillness and sky are to make me well again. But I came into a long spell of rain that today for the first time shows signs of clearing a little over the restlessly wind-blown land; and I am using this first moment of brightness to greet you, dear sir.

Very dear Mr. Kappus: I have left a letter from you long unanswered, not that I had forgotten it — on the contrary: it was of the sort that one reads again, when one finds them among one’s correspondence, and I recognized you in it as though you had been close at hand. It was the letter of May 2nd, and you surely remember it.

ROME, OCTOBER 29, 1903

My Dear Sir,
I received your letter of August 29th in Florence, and not till now — two months later — am I telling you of it. Forgive this dilatoriness — but I do not like writing letters while traveling, because I need more for letter-writing than the most necessary implements: some quiet and solitude and a not too incidental hour.

ROME, MAY 14, 1904

My Dear Mr. Kappus,
Much time has gone by since I received your last letter. Do not hold that against me; first it was work, then interruptions and finally a poor state of health that again and again kept me from the answer, which (so I wanted it) was to come to you out of quiet and good days. Now I feel somewhat better again (the opening of spring with its mean, fitful changes was very trying here too) and come to greet you, dear Mr. Kappus, and to tell you (which I do with all my heart) one thing and another in reply to your letter, as well as I know how.


My Dear Mr. Kappus,
In this time that has gone by without a letter I have been partly travelling, partly so busy that I could not write. And even today writing comes hard to me because I have already had to write a lot of letters so that my hand is tired. If I could dictate, I would say a great deal to you, but as it is, take only a few words for your long letter.


You must know, dear Mr. Kappus, how glad I was to have that lovely letter from you. The news you give me, real and tellable as it now is again, seems good to me, and, the longer I have thought it over, the more I have felt it to be in fact good. I really wanted to write you this for Christmas Eve; but what with work, in which I am living this winter, variously and uninterruptedly, the ancient holiday approached so fast that I had hardly any time left to attend to the most necessary errands, much less to write.

Do not fear, however, my dear Mr. Kappus. I am signing up for Medium tonight and I promise you’ll be hearing from me soon!