I beat myself up sometimes because I haven’t read more of the world’s literary masterpieces. I hate lists like the “Best 100 Books of 2009” because I get to see just how few of those that made the cut I actually own. No matter how much I actually read, I never seem to make a dent in that enormous library.
There’s only one advantage to having a reserve pool of great titles that I can think of: the infinite pleasure of stumbling, for the first time, upon words that the literary angels channeled through a chosen author.
I had never read Letters to a Young Poet. If there are no coincidences in life, I am not yet clear why it was only this past weekend that I found the thin volume. And inside I found nourishment and inspiration and a reminder of the righteousness of my choices.
I share with you a small sampling of the bounty:
You ask me whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them to other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write. This above all–ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, Paris, February 17th, 1903 (Letter One).