to Rachel, from Rilke
Reading Journal reflections on Letters to a Young Poet
Since arriving in Spain I’ve had both cause and opportunity to make a concentrated effort to read all the lovely books I buy. My system is simple and still in the early stages so I’ll not pretend to give advice on how to read more, but I do find myself wanting to share my thoughts and reactions to the books in a semi-formal way. And hey, look at this! A relatively unused Substack!
For my first Reading Journal post I want to share some quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.1 I’m a notorious underliner no matter the genre — I probably underlined half the little book — but I’ve picked out three passages that I’ve returned to in the months since crossing this book off my reading list. I’ve found they are the perfect antidote to an overdose of Twitter discourse or social media comparison.
“Things are not all as graspable and sayable as on the whole we are led to believe; most events are unsayable, occur in a space that no word has ever penetrated…”
A lot of people have a lot to say on Twitter, and the internet in general. This is, for me, a soothing reminder that most of what most people say online is inconsequential.
The more intense the situation, the less sayable. And the more certain people will be of the words they use to sooth their personal anxieties.
I admit I am also guilty of trying to hide behind language from whatever overwhelms me. If I could just find the right words, the best words, to describe the thing, I would find the sweetest peace of clear perception and complete understanding.
Obviously, unfortunately, I do need this reminder that some things are not sayable. That if I must cope with words to do so in my personal, hand-written journal.2 Not in public.
“Seek out the depths of things: irony will never reach down there…”
The perfect companion for the first quote. Irony is another intellectual barrier we try to hide behind to avoid the pain of unsayable things. I’m not an entire grump, I appreciate some good comedic coping. But to truly deal with unsayable feelings about unsayable things you have to go through the irony and come out on the side of sincerity.
I can hear you shrinking back from merely reading the word “sincerity”, lest the letters leave a mark giving you away as cringy or try-hard, outré if you’re fancy.
It takes courage to be openly honest about anything, in public or in private. I’d rather be openly curious and sincere than be emotionally dry and detached.
This is what I tell myself when I start feeling sour about people who perform ironic aloofness well enough to financially support themselves. It’s both comforting and disheartening to know that my deep, sincere disdain for brittle irony would have been as relevant and justified in 1903.
“What goes on in your innermost being is worth all your love, this is what you must work on however you can and not waste too much time and too much energy on clarifying your attitude to other people.”
But… If I could just find the right words, the best words, to describe my sincere attitude and intentions, my interlocutor and myself would find the sweetest peace of clear perception and complete understanding!
No. That has never worked in my real life and this quote helps me refocus my time and energy on hoarding my creative energy, rather than giving it away.
It also helps me answer the question, “should I post this tweet?”
To conclude this post I’ll leave you with one more quote, no commentary:
“We must accept our existence in as wide a sense as can be: everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible within it. That, when you come down to it, is the only kind of courage that is demanded of us: the courage for the oddest, the most unexpected, the most inexplicable things that we may encounter. That human beings have been cowardly in this regard has done life endless harm.”
Penguin Books 2011, translated and edited by Charlie Louth
thought-bombing my husband right when he wakes up also counts as hand-written journaling
see the first quote listed in this post: most things are not sayable