"I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be." David quoted Joan Didion in his comments on the July 16 Rilke post, and somehow that sentence helped me pull together my thoughts about letters 3 and 4. By thoughts I mean patience more than ideas. I had become impatient with Rilke, but perhaps I hadn't thought enough about the position that Kappus had put him into. Imagine that you're a moderately well known writer who suddenly begins receiving letter after anxious letter from a younger man who badgers you for advice. What tone would your letters take? I mean, really, Kappus is asking for the pontificating, in a way that (to borrow Jean's mention) Henry Thoreau's readers never did. That's because Thoreau's writings were based on his own journal meditations: he wasn't working to respond to the specific worries of a specific correspondent. And Kappus was a stranger to Rilke. These letters weren't Bishop-Lowell-old-pal meanderings.
In short, I think Carlene has nailed something in her comments that I did not address in mine: "I like when things click." Yes, these two letters contain a certain amount of palaver, but they also contain much that does click. Some of those places are self-contradictions (as I pointed out in my initial reactions), but isn't self-contradiction a poet's canvas? If I approach these letters as the beginnings of thought, I feel much better about them. As Teresa noted, the poet is constantly "challenge[d] to find the balance between listening to self and listening to others. . . . the two forces are always there." When she adds, "I'm speaking as both a writer and as a reader," I feel she is reminding me to "keep on nodding terms" with with my reader's tendency to react and second-guess myself and change my mind.