Valentine’s Day brings out the poet in the writer. Do you have a favorite? Mine is Rainer Maria Rilke, a master of imagery. He wrote exquisite poems, like this one:
MEMORIES OF A CHILDHOOD
The darkness hung like richness in the room
When like a dream the mother entered there
And then a glass’s tinkle stirred the air
Near where a boy sat in the silent gloom.
The room betrayed the mother—so she felt—
She kissed her boy and questioned “Are you here?”
And with a gesture that he held most dear
Down for a moment by his side she knelt.
Toward the piano they both shyly glanced
For she would sing to him on many a night,
And the child seated in the fading light
Would listen strangely as if half entranced,
His large eyes fastened with a quiet glow
Upon the hand which by her ring seemed bent
And slowly wandering o’er the white keys went
Moving as though against a drift of snow.
Rilke was not shy about giving advice to young poets. He believed that, “… even the best of us get the words wrong when we want them to express such intangible and almost unsayable things.” His letters to a young poet, Franz Kappus, reflect his views about being a writer.
There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must’, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient.
Did you notice that Rilke discouraged Kappus from looking outside of himself for validation? Instead, he encouraged him to look into his own heart.
Good advice, on this Valentine’s Day, from a great poet.
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