I first read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, oh, maybe fifteen years ago. I worked my way through it slowly, patiently, and underlined a whole lot of passages. But I felt a bit lost: I wanted so desperately to talk about the book with someone, to piece out and think about some of the parts which begged conversation. Sadly, few people I knew at the time had even read it once, and rest assured, no one was willing to re-read it or read it for the first time in order to engage in deep thinking and discussion. So, unfortunately, Rilke and I have a nodding acquaintance, and that’s about it.
Recently I attended the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, and the subject of Rilke’s book came up. Almost upon a wish, several people expressed an interest in reading or re-reading Letters, to carry on our deep, contemplative conversations well past our week of camaraderie and companionship. I hope that this can happen; I think that many of us do feel a bit adrift, even among our professional colleagues. Our “tribe” at the conference gets it: we understand each other, and it would be both invigorating and comforting to know that we can carry forth what we’ve created there in our sanctuary, the barn with all the friendly ghosts and voices that keep us grounded.Of course there are others of you who have never attended the conference who also get it, as Carlene writes, and of course you, too, are welcome to join the conversation. Unless one of you has a better plan, I will follow the pattern of our previous communal blog readings (Moby-Dick, The Winter's Tale, etc.). I'll "assign" chapters and a due date, and you will chime in if these seem untenable. On or around the due date, I'll drop in a few conversation starters, and you will use the comment section to respond, expand, electrify. Please remember that I am not the expert or the teacher or anything of the sort. However, because I am the blog administrator, I do have responsibility for maintaining a general structure of participation. My remarks will, I hope, simply be impetus to your own thoughts.
So, for our first foray, let's tackle the introduction (written by Franz Kappus, the young poet), followed by letters 1 and 2. And for a due date, let's aim for July 10 or so. Remember, nothing goes better with fireworks and barbecue than the ramblings of a sensitive German aesthete.
By the way, my edition is the M. D. Herter Norton translation, but I'm sure others do exist. Do not fret if we are reading different versions: the variations are likely to make our discussions even richer.