If you've read Rilke's famous letters to Kappus, a year or so ago, my cousin Blake Hunt messaged me and suggested a writing exercise for both of us: a hypothetical letter FROM Kappus to Rilke, in particular the letter preceding Rilke's most well known sixth letter to Kappus.
The first letter you'll read is Rilke's actual sixth letter and then you'll read what I imagine prompted Rilke to write his stunning sixth letter.
"To Franz Xaver Kappus
Rome, December 23, 1903
My dear Mr. Kappus,
you should not be without a greeting from me when Christmas and if you, in the midst of the feast, your loneliness heavier wear than usual. But if you then realize that it is big, so you can look at its ; For what (so you ask yourself) would be a solitude that would not be great; there is only a solitude, and which is large and is not easy to wear, and there are almost all the hours because it would like to exchange it for any more banal and cheap commonality against the appearance of a low compliance with the second best, With the most unworthy... But perhaps these are just the hours when loneliness grows; For their growth is painful as the growth of the boys, and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not make you mad. What is necessary is only this: solitude, great inner solitude. Walking in and not meeting anyone for a long time - that must be achieved. Being lonely as a child was lonely as the grownups wandered around with things that seemed important and great because the big ones looked so busy and because they did not understand anything about their actions.
And if one day one realizes that their occupations are pathetic, their occupations are frozen, and are no longer connected with life, then why not look more like a child than upon a foreigner, out of the depths of their own world, Own loneliness, which is work itself and rank and profession? Why would a child want to exchange wise, non-understanding, against defenses and contempt, since non-understanding is aloneness, defense and contempt, but participation in what one wants to divorce with these means.
Think, dear Lord, of the world that you carry within yourself, and call this thinking as you please; It may be a reminder of one's own childhood or longing for one's own future, but be attentive to what is rising in you, and set it above all that you observe. Your inner life is worthy of all your love, you have to work somehow and not lose too much time and too much courage to clarify your attitude to the people. Who says you have one at all?
I know your profession is hard and full of contradiction to you, and I foresaw your complaint and knew that it would come. Now it has come, I can not soothe you, I can only advise you to survive, if not all professions are so full of claims, full of enmity towards the individual, so to speak, with the hatred of those who are dumb and grumpy The sober duty. The state in which you must now live is no more burdened with conventions, prejudices, and errors than all the other classes, and if there are some who show greater freedom, there is no one who is far in himself And spacious and related to the great things that make up real life. Only the individual who is lonely is placed as a thing under the deep laws, and when one goes out into the morning that raises, or looks out into the evening, which is full event, and when he feels what is happening, So all the standings fall from him, as from a dead man, even though he stands in the midst of pure life. What you, dear Mr. Kappus, should now learn as an officer, you would have felt the same in each of the existing occupations, and even if you had been looking for easy and independent contact with society alone, Have been spared.
It is so everywhere; But that is no reason for fear or sadness; If there is no common ground between people and you, try to be close to the things you will not leave; Nor are there the nights, nor the winds that go through the trees, and over many lands; Nor among the things and among the beasts are all the events of which you are allowed to participate; And the children are still as you were as a child, so sad and happy, -and if you think of your childhood, then live again among them, among the solitary children, and the adults are nothing, and have their dignity No value."
My imaginary letter from Kappus
The book was returned to me, in a state that suggests it was serving as a riser for some large, animated child clad in exceedingly coarse cloth. As to your sentiments regarding the Italian mail service, I can testify to a similar level of Austrian inefficiency. In Verne's wildest conjuring, might not he have created a method of correspondence that did not rely upon disinterested mortals.
This new station of mine makes a mockery of the romance of the soldier. The idea that there can be anything poetic about the life of a soldier is either proof of the skill of certain writers and bards or of the willingness of so many readers and hearers to be so misled. The routine is destructive to the very ambition that led me to seek out this particular vocation in hopes it would be favorable to finding myself while it attended my material needs. The shock of the unfamiliarity that was at first so invigorating has dulled now that I discover how quickly everything becomes contemptuously familiar. I have at least though realized some success in my quest to quiet my mind. But I am finding even that quietness discomforting.
For I am finding the solitude you value so highly a burden. I realized sometime last week that I was thinking of solitude as an end in itself, despite my best intentions. It's very difficult not to romanticize solitude, in the brooding light of the lonely surface of the deep before the Spirit of God began to trouble it. And perhaps that is more appropriate than I realize. For I am finding solitude anything but an end. It is instead the most restless place I've ever been, a void very like the one which languished for untold eons before God Himself, in all His arbitrariness, chose to disturb the hateful placidity at a time of His own inscrutable choosing. I can recognize the value of this existence only as a forge, the minutes falling like the hammer, sleep as the cooling sand pit.Although I see nothing taking shape, (indeed, my mind feels like less of a useful tool all the time, my soul seems at times to be molten) and my faith in your faith and even my doleful conviction that hardship must be useful, if only as a foil for ease, is being beaten out, day after day, with no sign of being re-forged. I fear this lonely crucible of time will find out in me a worthless piece of ore, a slab of slag with a fatal flaw, and that I shall be cast aside or at last beaten into nothing, a final shower of sparks that flies up and fades down and leaves the smith with empty tongs.
This disappointment is all the more bitter, as I have always intuited that if I could escape once more to the starkness of childhood, where everything fell easily into it's category, where even exceptions reinforced the rule. I accepted things with an assurance I am sickened to now suspect as mere complete credulity-the emptiness that gnaws like acute hunger at the realization that home was an illusion .God was more than just a given. I swear that he spoke to my child's mind. I swear it by all that I know to be true. But I have lost him. I have lost him to a confusing melee of facts. I know that if God exists, he cannot be the simple God Always On My Side that I felt as a child. That God has too much against him, too many inconsistencies blindingly obvious to the powers of observation that he ostensibly gave me, and he is far too weak to stand to be crucified by the logic with which he constructed my mind. Is memory so false, or do humans simply cease one mode of existence before passing into another. (Does a larvae really die instead of transforming?)
I can tell you that not a single foundational stone of my childhood is unmoved. Nothing is the same. I have sought that singleness of purpose, even trying to forget myself. I know that I am an exceptionally self aware person, and have no reason to doubt the charitable when they say that the key to happiness is self forgot. I have tried to believe that the increasing awareness of the world around me and my exact relation to everyone in it was, in reality, itself an illusion. That manhood had brought a sort of fever to my soul, clouding vision and populating the world with things that weren't really there.
But in the dark silence, the solitude is only loneliness. The spectres of doubt refuse to dissolve, and I am accompanied, always, by what I hope is fear of the darkness but dread is nothing.