Friday, March 23, 2012

Letters to a Young Poet: Quotes, Part II

Let's continue with my favorite parts of "Letters to a Young Poet":

On seeing your art through another's eyes:
"You see: I have copied out your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the shape that it moves in with some quiet decorum.  It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read.  And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one's own in someone else's handwriting.  Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own."

On learning to love:
"It is also good to love: because love is difficult.  For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn.  With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love."

On bearing sadness:
"The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of.  If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear out our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys.  For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing."


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On transition:
"We could easily be made to believe nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.  We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens."

On the transformative power of beauty, courage, and love:
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.  Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."

On change:
"You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you?  Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?  Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change... you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both."

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On understanding others:
"And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don't think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure.  His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours.  If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words."

On letting life happen:
"There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other things that oppress you: is just what I have already said: just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people.  And as for the rest, let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is in the right, always."

On doubt:
"And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it.  It must become knowing, it must become criticism.  Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting.  But don't give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will be come one of your best workersperhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life."

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