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Title: Letters to a Young Woman (Briefe an eine junge Frau)
Author: Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by: William Needham
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0900041h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: January 2009
Date most recently updated: January 2009

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Letters to a Young Woman
(Briefe an eine junge Frau)


Rainer Maria Rilke

First Published 1930

Translated from the German by William Needham

Creative Commons License

Letters to a Young Woman by Rainer Maria Rilke
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

Soglio/Graubünden, Switzerland,
2nd August 1919

I think, dear lady, that I can respond to the lines you sent me in no better or more accurate a way than by assuring you how well I understand the impulse from which they arose. The art-thing can change nothing; it can improve nothing. From the moment it comes into being it is no different with regard to Man than is Nature: self-fulfilled, self-preoccupied (like a fountain)—hence it might be called, if you will, "indifferent". But in the end we know that this art-thing, this restraining second nature—which is itself restrained by the will that determines it—is, nevertheless, fashioned from the extremes of human suffering and joy; and herein lies the key to that treasure house of unfailing solace, amassed in the work of artists, which the lonely person has a unique and indisputable right to claim. There are, I know, times in one's life, years perhaps, when feeling lonely among those nearest to you reaches a point you would not have thought possible even if the topic had been mentioned quite innocently and spontaneously in familiar company. Nature itself is incapable of reaching out and touching us. We must have the strength to win it to our side, to translate it, as it were, into human terms and relate its tiniest part to ourselves. Yet this is precisely what deeply lonely people cannot do. They want everything to change without making any effort themselves. It is the same when sick people become so weak they can hardly bring themselves to open their mouths for proffered food—but what they need to do and must do is to grab at it as if their sole aim were to take hold of their existence and transform every atom of weakness into self-dedication. But even then, strictly speaking, nothing will have actually changed, and it would be presumptuous to expect that an art-thing could be of help. It carries human tension within it, but not as propaganda; and its intensity does not spread everywhere. Yet it could, merely by virtue of the times, create the mistaken impression that its aspiration, the demands it makes, the publicity it receives are a guise for promoting reckless love, causing public unrest and summonses from the courts. The point is that an art-thing possesses a conscience: it is not a call to action. The fraudulent view given to a forlorn humanity resembles all the priestly deceptions by which the Divine has been served since the beginning of time. I am taking liberties going into such detail but your letter really spoke to me, to me, not simply to a name on a letter; and so, for my part, I wanted to be no less accurate and present you with no empty phrases, rather the real, factual experience of being moved in this way.

When you speak of your child at the end of your letter it gives a confidential turn to your writing to which I can respond only by declaring that I am in complete readiness to offer you my trust. If it will benefit you, tell me more about this child and about yourself, and feel free to write at length. I am of the old-fashioned school which still considers the letter to be one of the finest and most rewarding means of intercourse. Admittedly, holding to this view means that there are times when my correspondence becomes more than I can handle and starts to pile up, and, furthermore, so does the work, often for months; more often still (as throughout the whole of the war) an insuperable "sécheresse d'âme" renders me silent and leaves me so. But for all that, I value human relationships not by any monetary standard but rather by Nature's; so, from now onwards, if you wish, let this be both bond and agreement between us: I shall be absent for lengthy periods, but, I will always be ready to reply, understanding you and sharing knowledge with you, as I have been allowed to do today for the first time.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Soglio (Bergell, Graubünden),
30 August 1919

Now, from the start, be assured of this: so long as I continue to enjoy what you have to tell me, then writing an immediate reply will never feel like an imposition. Let those words put your mind at rest. The experiences you speak of, the state of your heart and mind, all of which you are able to convey to me, actually lie outside the region that "answering" can reach. This questioning is the questioning nature of our innermost life. Who replies to it? Good fortune, disaster, or a surprise movement of the heart may, perhaps, rush upon us with a reply; or the reply may take shape within us slowly and imperceptibly, lying on that new page in our heart which is unfamiliar even to ourselves and needs to be read aloud. What human experience, what voice from us all does not, in the end, ascend that little hill (our question) and stand open whom? To the heavens.

Woman's destiny: its wish is to be fulfilled, resolved, answered once and for all. To remain questioning is unnatural. But do not forget, that the husband confronts Nature in exactly the same way as every single one of us confronts Nature: without even the means of comprehending such inexhaustible qualities. We take hold of her, we breathe her, we let go of her, we turn our eyes from her, lose ourselves in cities, in books. We abandon her for an existence of gaps. We deny and disown her in every conscious moment day and night—until a wave of dissatisfaction plunges us into disillusionment and weariness; then insistent pain sweeps us back to her heart, and casts us towards her as towards Being itself, we who were already wasting away. Nature, completely sufficient to herself both in motion and repose and independent of our heart's surging or turning away, does not notice when we desert her; we are of her, but she has never known the neediness that comes from being on one's own, or, to put it another way, she is at all times complete because she is all, and lives not at the outer limits of this condition, but within the intimacy of its warm, perfect centre. Should the woman who is lonely not have, within the concentric circles of her healed being, this same sanctuary in which to dwell? In so far as she herself is Nature she will on occasions succeeed in having this, but then what exacts vengeance on her again are the two conflicting sides of her make-up which expect her to be at one with Nature as well as being human, the inexhaustible and the exhausted together. And exhausted, not from having given all she has but because she cannot continue giving more and more since her own unstinted giving from the bounteousness of her heart has become a burden, because what is no longer there is the unrestrained and happy presumption to which she should awaken in the morning and which even in the warmth of sleep she is able to satisfy in a way that is inherent in her. Yes, that is when she is in harmony with a Nature without whose soil, flowers cannot rise and find nourishment, a Nature in which young hares are soon up and away, and young birds launch themselves without falling back into the nest that would always welcome them. If, however, she wishes to hold to Nature's way and realises that it is her right to care, to meet all needs and to be all-giving, she will never again sense any confusion in her human awareness. Is, then, the protection she offers so reliable? Does her giving have no bounds? And behind her welcoming is there not some ruse which Nature fails to discern? And, all considered, is she not insecure and at risk herself? How, as a human being, does she find herself able to make promises when at any minute she can be prey to a barrenness of heart, to a consuming wretchedness, to a sickness that takes away the sweetness of her breath and that dims the light in her eye? I have always imagined that this double existence that a woman has would be rendered bearable by an innocent approach to love on the part of the husband who shares the reality of the moment and the love of his beloved with, at best, only a sketchy notion of what love can create. As wooer he exaggerates the powers of Nature in the awakening understanding of the astonished girl, only to be the first, soon after winning her, to reject her and to complain of the human frailty and helplessness in the very creature who has completely surpassed him. Here the deep idleness of his love betrays itself in having just enough breath for one day of leisure and just enough self-possession for the immeasurable gift of one night: no, what power remained was not enough to gather in this gift and utterly transform it, and create for it a private place where the lovers could share a vital innocence, without which they should not remain together; that being so, in comparison with the woman, it is the man, the lover, who appears to be in the wrong, one of love's braggarts who does not go beyond the elementary stages in the art of love, who eternally thinks that from the first lesson he can master the whole poem, which by her image and rhythm the loving woman embodies. Is one not moved, on the other hand, by the sad fate of this disregarding and disregarded blind man, this blusterer, who wants to travel round the world but has not been able to encompass a single heart?

This for one of your evenings. Strange: perhaps it is those evenings of "unbearable depth" that are the very ones that persons like us long for, although we are not unaware of their danger. In particular it is those which wrest the most from the heart that should be the most challenging inwardly because, in the end, there remains no way out other than by giving utterance to them. For how long now have outward and inner cares stood in the way of my spending such an evening with you. What a boon your quiet beautiful old house seems to me, and for a moment how it comforts me in my homelessness that, as you say, one letter from me could fulfil the expectation of your smiling rooms.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Locarno (Tessin), Schweiz,
19th January 1920

This, dear lady, will hardly be a letter—nothing more than a concerned enquiry about you. Your letter of the 28th September ended with the hint of so many uncertainties and changes that I felt inclined to put your long silence down to all sorts of possible difficulties. It would be good if you could give me some reassurance.

As regards my own silence, I asked you right at the start never to conclude that it is due to any indifference or forgetfulness on my part. I may go through long periods when I seize up and loathe the very pen I write with. At other times I am so much at the mercy of changes and influences surrounding me that I cannot keep to any kind of orderliness. Should I ever find that ideal place I am constantly looking for, where everything would be conducive to my work and concentration, I would certainly, in these respects, be able to improve and become more productive, more reliable. At present I am still very far from that. The Great War plunged me into a wretched, makeshift kind of existence which is set to continue for some time. It seems to me that I am to be like a bird perched forever "sur la branche, et c'est une branche plutôt sèche et très peu convenable qui me soutient." At the very time your last letter arrived I'd just been forced to leave my safe abode in Soglio and begin a period of going from one hotel to another which virtually put paid to my letter-writing, partly because none of the hotels—not even the so-called best ones—provided a suitable place for writing (unless you happened to be a commercial traveller), and partly because I was always surrounded by voices and people coming and going. All this on account of five weeks travelling from town to town giving public readings—conditions which made it all the harder to communicate with anyone elsewhere. I'm telling you all this not to burden you with my own affairs—dismiss them from your thoughts immediately—but by way of making a small attempt to provide myself with an excuse. Mind you, I'm only assuming that you would have actually welcomed a message from me at such an unsettling time in your life, or it could well be the case that you had enough on your own mind with all the decisions and new arrangements you would have had to make. Have you found a place yet where you and your child can live? It's a question I've always wondered about. At Christmas-time in particular it kept coming into my mind. The last time you wrote you mentioned taking girl pupils, though you didn't indicate what ages and subjects you teach. Have you been able to take up teaching again where you live now? Has it worked out well? Joyfully, perhaps? Being, myself, beset on all sides through not having a homeland, I can well imagine what it may have cost you to leave that peaceful old house. How different the war years might have been for me if I had had the sheltered comfort of permanent and agreeable things about me.

The "questions" in your wonderful letter—well, my dear lady, where to begin? Again, as always, it concerns the Whole, but even if we sometimes achieve this inwardly in a burst of happiness or by sheer intent, in reality it is interrupted by all the errors, mistakes, shortcomings, ill-will between individuals, helplessness and gloom—indeed, by nearly everything we come up against in daily life.

At the moment of love's consummation, which we feel to be so completely and deeply ours and ours alone, it is an alarming assumption to make that it might be so entirely determined, in disregard of ourselves, by the future (the future child) on the one hand, and on the other by the past. But even then the moment would still retain its indescribably deep escape into what is our own. I believe my words come very near the truth. They would accord with the experience of how each of our deepest joys makes itself independent of time and progression, so that they stand vertically along life's pathways, as does death, and they have more in common with death than with all the aims and actions that arise from our vitality. Only from the viewpoint of death (if one does not accept it as a dying away but suspects it to be an experience of all-surpassing intensity) only from the viewpoint of death, I think, is love justified. But even then, the prevalent notions regarding these great matters get in our way and disconcert us. Our traditions have ceased to guide, they are dead branches that draw no more strength from nourishing root. And if one adds to that the man's diversions, his distractions, and his impatience, and the fact that the woman's profoundly generous spirit is only to be found in those rare relationships that stem from her happiness, and that alongside two people who are divided and shattered like this, and already with the question coming up of the child who is just as much at a loss as they are—then, yes, one humbly admits that our lot can be very hard.

Let everything continue in the friendliest way between us, letter by letter.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Schloss Berg am Irchel, Kanton Zurich, Switzerland
7th March 1921

If little actions can at times speak louder than words you will be reassured of my enduring interest in you when I tell you that immediately after receiving your letter I opened my address book to make a careful note of where you are now living: I can assure you that I automatically entered your name in fine handwriting—for where but in one's hand can joy be felt—as well as recording the place where now dwells "a being completely at peace".

I was going to say that I found your lovely letter not easy to understand—but no, that's not quite right: the only thing that is hard is proving that I have understood and understood fully: for everything you speak of that arises from your experience can, regarding that experience, be vouched for only by you. For anyone else to respond, even with the utmost caution, it would soon incur the risk of halting you while you were in a constantly changing state, and of disrupting the unbidden freedom which was preparing you to survey your new position from all sides. By contrast, for a lonely person, one may use words much more freely. To a certain extent the insights of another person can reveal to lonely people the wide spaces which they, in common with those who have no idea of limits at all, cannot relate to. However, for those who have gathered experience of themselves in happy interactions their space is filled with realities and they must not be halted when they make discoveries nor when they are preparing for the next ones. The energy which travels outwards from them is boundless and runs in the completely opposite direction to those of the lonely individual.

I fear my own actual understanding may well be beyond expressing, but what I fear much less is interrupting you to let you know that in the experiences you describe a very special kind of joy resides in every single word. It was bound to happen that something would take hold of you and, yes, this fulfilment is of a most true and magnanimous nature and shows clearly that it has arrived not only because of your need of it but also because you were completely and perfectly worthy of it. Oh, would that I had been with you then when you were all alone, and especially when you had to withstand the pain of turning away from everything that was familiar to you; and had I also been there to savour something of that delicious moment when you turned with ease towards your new-found wealth. It is a rare occurrence for happiness and fulfilment to be accompanied by a deeper and more earnest awareness of oneself. In most people's minds loneliness can only result in melancholy errors; when fortune smiles they are bedazzled, they forget and deny the basic outline of their inner reality. Your preparation has been more thorough: you have abandoned none of the knowledge you already had; yes, truthfully, all the insights you gained from your neediness and your seclusion now appear, intermingled with the twin radiances of giving and receiving. And it is only when this comes about that your happiness is accompanied by self-trust, security, clarity of mind, and the deep realisation that nothing can harm you again (not until now could you apply the word "indestructible" to yourself); though some might have considered your wishes too serious, your strength and sincerity have prevailed.

Together with this great piece of joyous news your letter provided me with other pieces in the same vein. It is good to see that now Michael too has his reward for managing on occasions to do without the old garden, and to imagine how happy it must be for you all being able to keeping up with the gardening in the early Spring weather.

As for me, at present I am living all alone in a little old castle in Berg where my peaceful windows overlook a fountain and parkland. Now, at last, I have what I have been hoping for all the time I have been in Switzerland—a place of retreat where I can gain the spiritual strength to take up my work again. Mind you, even in such favourable conditions, I still find my progress long and slow!

Rainer Maria Rilke

Chateau de Muzot sur Sierre, Valais, Switzerland,
27th December 1921

The love which your letter so fully conveyed both increased and confirmed the already heightened expectancy at Christmas time. It reached me on Christmas Eve and what was most marvellous about it was that everything you had to tell me was wholly in accord with the gathered stillness of the hour and contributed to it perfectly. Do you know—and I've often wondered myself as time has gone by—how much of what is best in human and earthly terms you already have achieved and made part of you, and have you thought (as one thinks of how life will turn out) how much of that will remain with you? Oh, believe me, a great deal of it; and that is the most one can be granted—in your case bending over the land you are bonded to and tending it with your very hands, continuing to share a trusting, like-minded and loving friendship; and all the while your child is growing and developing with a heartiness that makes boyhood a joy to behold. And if that is not enough to convince you, let the brightness of your upturned face attest to the strength, grace and incontestable rightness of your mind and spirit that enabled you to experience, like an angel passing for a short while among humanity would have experienced, the hectic pace of the city, then the radiating strains of a violin, and finally the overwhelming immensity of the ocean. I am using phrases like this only so that you may see how everything you had to tell made it indeed a Christmas letter, and only by showing you your experience mirrored deeply and intensely can I proffer my thanks for your beautiful photograph. How could such a gift be described as "over-personal"? Only a short step further and it would take us again to what has the most universal validity, the fundamentals of life, the urge towards the constituent hues which self-surrender, unspent, in the everlasting light.

Nor do the other small photographs render your letter in any way "over-personal"; going through them I was so pleased to be looked at by you all, yes, even by many of your flowers, and I kept good and still so that I would seen clearly by all. This piece of land that you are wrestling with—will not its innocent rersistance to flower-growing have caused you to struggle in much the same way as Jacob of old? Looking at the small photographs one gains the impression of broad stretches in a yet sparsely populated area—how is it you were able to find that type of countryside in the relatively crowded Weimar? What you are experiencing now in the most ordinary detail of your daily life is the essential nature of what have been until now your three elements: sky, tree, ploughed earth—their reticence and the might of their self-revelation—and now that the fourth dimension, the sea, has been added to your experiences for the sake of your innermost being, does that not bring about an almost masterly balance in your existence? You can surely see now what joy, what quickening of shared feeling your letter has aroused in me, and that is what I am giving back to you to be ushered into your mind in the way that thoughts somehow always seem to quietly gather during this interlude between Christmas and the beginning of a new year. Observing you in this light is the same, is it not, as having wished all of it for you—and, as an indulgence, I am letting one of the red, black-spotted "good luck" beetles that over-winter rather dreamily in my study to clamber over the letter paper.

Shall I close by telling you something about myself? You can see that my address is changed. In May I had no option but to to leave Berg, a good place and one that had sheltered me like a friend a whole winter long. Once again there I was, facing a totally uncertain future and deeply worried. I had come to Berg to be alone, but my work had made scarcely any progress. So, for the whole of the summer I was restless and anxious that, in the coming winter, the present one, I might enjoy similar peace, isolation and shelter. How to find such, when, as you say, the world was "in flames". For a while it looked as though I would have to leave Switzerland—having no fixed abode would count against me—but where to go? Beyond these borders I would have had to flit about like a ghost. By way of giving myself a farewell treat I journeyed over to Wallis which is the grandest of all the Swiss Cantons (though to my mind it scarcely seems to be part of Switzerland any more). I had discovered it a year previously, and again, as when I first saw it, it gave the impression of a vast, lost world, its landscapes huge yet at the same time graceful, very much as how I remember Provence and, in certain aspects, even Spain. And it was here that, by the strangest coincidence, I found a manoir that had not been lived in permanently for hundreds of years. It has been a long struggle (and it is not over yet) but I can, at least, claim some success in that I now live in an old castle keep where I have made myself snug for the winter. Getting Muzot under control was no small matter and without the assistance of a Swiss friend all efforts to overcome its daunting obstacles would have continued to fail. As you can see, my dwelling (admittedly there is only me and a housekeeper here) is no bigger than your own. The small photograph I enclose does not show it quite as it is today and must have been taken before 1900. That was when there was a change of ownership and the old manor underwent a thorough restoration. Fortunately, not much was altered and nothing was spoiled; it was really done only to halt decay. A small garden was added and the plants stand rather dramatically in groups all round the walls, like defenders. My happiest surprise was to find it contains a traditional soapstone stove which dates back to 1656, together with timbered ceilings that belong to the same period and tables, chests and chairs, all well made and proudly displaying carvings denoting their 17th century origin; and if all that were not enough (particularly for one who even as a child was committed to giving new life to things that had been passed down through the years), the grandeur and scale of this part of the Rhone Valley combine with it to make the total experience overwhelming. One can see hills, mountains, castles, chapels, magnificent single poplars positioned like exclamation marks in just the right places, and pathways meandering about the sloping vineyards, looking from afar like loosened silk ribbons; it is so true to the pictures I remember first seeing as a child when I used to let my eyes wander over illustrations of broad, open spaces and wanted desperately to experience them.

How lovely it is for me now to turn to the picture you have sent me and see there in your face the fulfilment of perhaps everything which you have long desired.

I send you my dearest regards,

Rainer Maria Rilke.

Château de Muzot sur Sierre (Valais) Schweiz
19th May 1922

The beautiful letter you wrote me (sometime in April!) was a song straight from your heart—yet at the end, when you said you hoped I would receive it "kindly" you clearly underestimated its effect on me. "Joyously" would be nearer the truth—"joyously" written in a very large hand. What good things you had to report. Would you like to know just how good they sounded? You can sometimes tell pure, hard metal by its ring, and it is the same with pure, hard facts: here, whenever you touch upon them honestly and firmly I hear a ring, a bell-like ring, and what registers with me is what it represents in terms of its freedom and breadth.

You have toiled through the whole of a pitilessly harsh Winter and it must have seemed as if all your future happiness had been locked away, frozen; but now it has been set free (I hope) to rush forth in swirling streams towards Spring. Time, then, for our gardens to greet each other! Admittedly, I do very little of the work in my garden as I don't have the right sort of knowledge and experience, nor the right touch, but I have planted more than a hundred rose bushes here. My part in looking after them is confined to watering them every evening, a task which does not lend itself to any great variation and demands only that I be fair. And yet, perhaps there is a certain delicacy that attaches itself, in a modest way, to this careful portioning out, and something of my own self that merges into the quiet flow of unending growth.

What I find surprising and fascinating is how you are able to summon up the sheer strength and self-reliance which enables you to work your land even in the most difficult circumstances. I don't have the skill for it, nor the economy of action (which I sometimes try to practise, rather hurriedly)—but what could be more out of place in gardening than hurrying? What a joy and how refreshing it must be to be able to switch from working with one's mind to working with one's hands; I can see that each activity can learn and derive benefit from the other—provided, of course, one has the talent, confidence, experience and right attitude—in a word: capability. I will probably have to leave it be and retreat to my other garden, my inner garden, where my eyes can roam or, better, become fixed in wonder, which is what happens when I look upon your flowers and your letters and see them merge into one.

Tending my inner garden went splendidly this winter. Suddenly to be healed again and aware that the very ground of my being—my mind and spirit—was given time and space in which to go on growing; and there came from my heart a radiance I had not felt so strongly for a long time. It has been possible for me not only to take up again my most cherished work (begun in splendid isolation in 1912 and since 1914 virtually untouched), but, without any difficulty at all, to bring it to completion. During this period and almost of its own accord a small work emerged and, as it were, flowed alongside: over fifty sonnets—my "Sonnets to Orpheus"—written for the grave monument of a young girl. (I have written out seven of them for you in a small book I am enclosing). Had this selection been larger or had I been able to present you with my main work you would note the many instances where Winter brought us similar benefits. You tell me how you are able to feel fully alive every moment of the day and that your inner life is brimming over; you write in the knowledge that what you have, if one looks at it squarely, outweighs and cancels all possible privations and losses that may later come along. It is precisely this that was borne in upon me more conclusively than ever before as I worked away during the long Winter months: that the stages by which life has become impoverished correspond with those earlier times when excesses of wealth were the accustomed measure. What, then, is there to fear? Only forgetting! But you and I, around us and in us, we have so much in store to help us remember!

Rainer Maria Rilke.

Château de Muzot sur Sierre (Valais), Switzerland
2nd. February 1923

The same anxieties and the same overwhelming onrush of events that are making you suffer so are causing me to withdraw more and more into silence. How often, dear friend, have I set your previous letter in front of me, only to put it aside for a better, happier time when I could reply. As you can well imagine, every word (as well as the large four-leaf clover leaf you enclosed) went straight to my heart. But my own summer and especially my autumn were plagued by many uncertainties, and even though I am trying, alone here in my old tower, to make this winter resemble as far as posssible the good one that preceded it, things are not easy, partly because my health is less stable, and partly because of those selfsame agitations which only make general conditions worse yet link themselves invasively (exactly as it was in the War!) to anything that could mark a new start. In the same regard there are many sentences in your letter that I can literally apply to myself: your "Already half my thoughts during the day are no more my own and my nights are full of fevered visions"—that and others, because it is no different with me. What exactly is it that is happening? And who are the "we" in all of this? It is just as it was in wartime when there was the same sort of insistent and widespread alarm even though the disasters themselves were far away and scarcely touched us. Is this not one of those not infrequent occasions when one simply takes a deep breath and makes an effort to rise above the situation? How often have you walked through a summer meadow and trodden too close to one of those low-lying flowers whose response is to fill the air with a scent that imbues those near with a humble sense of comfort and consolation too great not to be shared? Your letter is full of such surprises, full of those pure fragrances which come from the heart and are familiar only to those who have gone through the hardest of times.

From a personal point of view and from what I have actually observed, there can be no doubt that what has brought the world to this impasse is Germany's failure to understand itself. I come from varied stock so I am able to take a more detached view. When it collapsed in 1918 Germany could have shocked and shamed the whole world if it had spurned the help it was offered. Germany could have firmly renounced all the bogus prosperity before the whole world. It could have relied upon the humility that has always resided in the nation's character and has been a hallmark of its honour; that would have been more fitting than having to bear the humiliation brought about by foreign dictates. For a short while it was my hope that the strangely normalised look of compliance seen on many a German face might once again register some of that bygone humility you see in Dürer's drawings. Perhaps there was a small number of people back then who felt the same. Their convictions and desires centred on a complete change of course. Now the dreadful consequences of that not happening are becoming all-too evident. There is something missing, something that only Germany itself could have provided: the restoration of that ancient standard of worthiness, rooted in humility, and determining all that is purest and best. It has not renewed itself from the bottom upwards. It was bent only on saving itself, hence all the superficiality, haste, distrust, and go-getting. It wanted to achieve high profits and make a swift departure instead of remaining true to the most secret part of its nature which is to endure, to survive, and to be prepared for its own miracle. It wanted to keep on doing the same things instead of changing. And so one feels now...something is missing. A date should have been set for all this to stop. A rung is missing from the ladder, hence the indescribable anxiety, the fear, the "premonition of a sudden and mighty fall"...What can be done? Let each one of us keep to our still quiet, still dependable little island-in-life, doing what we do, suffering, feeling. My own island is no more permanent and no more safeguarded than is yours—I am a guest, whereas you are a tenant, but need your lease actually be brought to an end in autumn? Won't you be handing back to your landlord the results of three years of tilling and cultivating? (That must seem to him a most welcome prospect!) Is there no possibility of convincing him that there are better options? I can well imagine how infinitely difficult it is these days to find a similar location, but I would think that going to the Argentine would hardly improve the chances of getting one, or of meeting your need to relate to land that in some way relates to you; besides, conditions over there are not the same as they once were when they favoured strength and courage....

If you look back over the years you spent in Weimar you will see what a success they have been and what a fine harvest they have yielded. So sure have been your gains, so bountiful, that if you had not thought, as you were writing the third page, of bringing those years to a close, and of hazarding a guess at their worth, I would still have been able to read the spalier-like lines—even the most troublesome ones—and pick a good, healthy number.

This is what makes me go on hoping for the best that I can wish you, which is what you yourself are now able to love so deeply.


Chateau de Muzot sur Sierre (Valais), Switzerland,
27th January 1924 (Sunday)

So each of us has viewed the other's silence with concern! The first thing I did was to turn your letter over, and when I recognised the old address my anxiety was partly eased. But I was too hasty! Indeed, what you had to say made it clear to me how difficult things have become for you. I cannot see things in quite the same way as you do, but it not for want of a proper understanding. I understand how helplessness, fatigue, and deep and utter disappointment strike at your very being now that, after so much real progress, you are not surrounded by proofs of success. More than I can say, I have believed, as you have believed, that winning a living from the land must be a worthwhile thing to be doing...indeed, if I search my thoughts, I find that the belief remains unaltered. Is it not possible for you to pause and reflect for a moment? You say the various plans you have made have followed one another in quick succession. Has there not been too many of them? Is there not one which still needs to be considered before your departure, one nearer to where you are? Reading between the lines I would say that you are not in the proper frame of mind to make weighty decisions, and I would recommend you do all you can to avoid anything drastic. If you do not yet have firm plans then it is as if nothing has yet been agreed upon and everything can be gone over again from the beginning. At all costs you must find time for a holiday. Give yourself some breathing space—be it just a short period when you can be free from worrying over your difficulties. Also there is the question of starting all over again in an unfamiliar country. Does it really have to be in a different part of the world? Is there not a piece of land to be found in Germany where you could begin again? But of course, there is no point in my asking since you are so sure about this; only, you did, after all, use the word "rushed". However, it is not supposed to be the act of a friend to remind you of what haste can lead to; yet, how could that same friend not know deep down what is in your mind when you talk of finding some "peace and stability". It must seem to you that only certain countries can offer such, while the rest of the world is full of din and clamour. Time and again it becomes apparent to each of us that it is not so. When the world became confused it lost the elements which produced that balance in our lives that in turn answered our inward needs. One could finish what work one had to do and then leave behind the world of consequences, changes, regulations; one had time left then to give over to a sort of innocent, relaxing "play"; and it was during those periods one would, scarcely knowing it, gather answers and proffer questions of which only Fate could be the source. I see quite a number of people who are needful and that is because they do not look to Nature to give them rewards. Greed or desperation is what drives these "restless ones" and they let nothing stand in their way. They have no inner goals. At this moment I feel quite close to you and I am trying to understand what you are going through. It is not hard for me to see into your heart—yet I have no advice to offer you! I realise that you suffered a wrong and that ever since the War it has weighed down on you with particular force; and I also know that none of us can find any refuge other than within our innermost being. This is the very place where, after all those years of hard work, you have become stronger, more assured, safer. There is no reason for you to become upset if, for the moment, you do not want to put that strength to the test. It is the weariness, the disappointment, and the constant worrying that has weakened your self-possession and has led you to think that all your confidence is gone.

You may, perhaps, be thinking that there was always something that kept me from sending you a copy of the "Elegies"...I expect I thought your mind would now be on other things and that it was not the right time to present you with a long and often difficult work to read. All the while, too, I was having to lead a very restricted life due to a recurring and life-threatening illness that only just recently has troubled me again. Last summer I had to place myself in the hands of a doctor and I remained in his care until only about a week ago. For the past 20 years in many countries and different situations I have coped with my physical ills all by myself and my connection with the doctor is, for the greater part, so close that it is as if he were also like a wedge driven into our medical relationship—a helpful infiltrator! Still, I did well to chance upon a doctor with whom I was soon able to talk with as with a friend. We agreed that, as far as it was possible, we would ignore medications and, instead, assist Nature (which for decades has shown itself to be very obliging) in those fluctuating situations where one tries hard to achieve a balance. I have never drawn distinct boundaries between body, mind and spirit: each has given active service to the other and each has been precious to, it would be a very strange and novel thing to do if I were now to confront my sickly, failing body with a definitive religious principle. This state of suspension due to my listlessness and incapacity has brought me insights that I could never otherwise have had, and I can actually sense a multitude of atoms gladly busying themselves within me.

Enough, I do not really like talking about these things and when I am unwell I can hardly bear to have anyone around me; I am governed by an almost animal-like desire to creep away and hide. Nevertheless, today, in this letter, I have allowed myself (by way of an exception) to write at some length: anything shorter would have given you a totally wrong picture. Whenever you write, do as you have done here and tell me everything (thoughts, desires, misgivings) that may be weighing heavily upon your mind—not that I can promise always to reply. You can imagine the amount of work and correspondence that I have had to neglect, and how it has grown because of my absences or because I have been in no fit state to continue. But it would keep me better informed and will help me find words to say that will have more point, whatever situation you are in.


Chateau de Muzot sur Sierre (Valais), Switzerland.
11th February 1924

Yes, for me as well, it was miracle enough, after your next-to-last letter, to see this new one arrive; it set off a host of cheery little reflections in the room lamps which are now switched on and are burning brightly like new stars that have found a place for themselves in a clearer firmament. I hardly need have any worries about you; well nigh every day I think of you drawing strength continually from those very skies and following their guide. Let me ask you, though, to avoid being too yielding whenever a change of course suggests itself; and will you resist trying to make your future develop in a particular way, even when you think you are simply following an unexpected path?

Do you not have an increasing sense that underlying one's own preparedness to accept whatever fate may bring there is a warm, sincere, frightened yet daring unchangeability? And what does living come down to but bringing about those changes in ourselves which we have daringly attempted and which can free us to enjoy a richness and closeness with everyone? After so much honest progress you have now come thus far: that you can live humbly and with the clear expectation that nothing untrue will, nor indeed can, ever find its way in to your heart, for you have that voice within you which merits your safe trust, your utmost faithfulness, and your joy.



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