Go Within, Young Man

Filed in The Inner Life, The Writing Life, Your Purpose as a Writer by on June 3, 2011 • views: 363

At the risk of sounding ignorant, I’m going to admit something here: I’ve never read Letters to a Young Poet by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I’ve heard of it, of course, but never read it. Maybe my teachers were negligent in school. Maybe for whatever reason it just hasn’t hit my reading radar. It has now.

They say when the student is ready the teacher will come. I think the same could be said of “teachers” that come through other forms, like books, music, film, art, and deceased artists. Maybe it’s good that I haven’t read this great work until now. Maybe there’s something really important it has to tell me at this particular juncture in my life. I expect that to be the case, as I’ve already come upon something I’ve been noodling over for the last few days, and that’s so applicable to Whooz Voice.

In case you, like me, were previously unaware of this work, it’s a collection of 10 letters written by Rilke to a 19-year-old man named Kappus who was about to enter the German military and had sent his poems to Rilke asking for his guidance. What followed was a correspondence that spanned five years. The depth and insight of just the first letter alone was enough to draw me up short and focus all my attention on the words. Here’s the first passage I wanted to share:

You ask whether your verses are any good….You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work….I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you — no one. 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.

What a testament to following the inner voice! Here Ranier is telling the young Kappus to ignore all other influences but that of his own spirit, to shut his ears to all other voices that would offer advice or criticism or praise. Go within, he says, for only there will you find the answers that you seek.

He continues with, “…go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create.” I think this applies to anything we ponder in life, any decision we have to make. Go within to find the answer.

This sort of thinking seems so foreign in our world today. There are plenty of self-help books and coaches telling us to listen to ourselves, but outside of that, we’re most often influenced to seek out the opinions of others. It seems most everything is judged by popular vote, from books to music to hotels to restaurants to young singers to celebrity dancers to “what dress should our winning bride wear to her wedding? Log on to our Facebook page and vote!”

No wonder we feel we need input, and lots of it, no matter what we’re trying to decide. Doesn’t make a lot of difference when you’re choosing one restaurant over another, but if you’re choosing what to do with your life—even just the next six months of it—the consequences become much more serious.

Rainier ends with, “…I want to add just one more bit of advice: to keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer.”

I love his seriousness here—you couldn’t disturb it any more violently than by looking outside. If you take his advice, there is a certain relief in the knowledge that you simply will not find the answers you’re looking for outside yourself.

So stop looking. Stop asking.

Go within.

© Talexnt | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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