cover image Letters to a Young Poet: With the Letters to Rilke from the “Young Poet”

Letters to a Young Poet: With the Letters to Rilke from the “Young Poet”

Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Xaver Kappus, trans. from the German by Damion Sear

Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (1929) is given an expanded treatment including, for the first time, the letters from Rilke’s correspondent, with intermittently intriguing but underwhelming results. In 2019, Rilke scholar Erich Unglaub discovered the letters that Franz Xaver Kappus, then an Austrian military cadet and aspiring poet, sent to Rilke between 1902 and 1908. Some of them provide enriching context for Letters’ famous passages. For example, following Rilke’s third letter, on the value of solitude and the importance of attaining it, Kappus asks if “we are supposed to endure our solitude in love too” and “share with the other person only the one common element of each having this solitude.” Too often, however, Kappus’s replies are simply fawning, as when he praises Rilke’s words as possessing the “simple grandeur of the Gospels and the richness of fairy-tale kings.” Searls’s translation lacks the poetic tone of earlier editions, and the book’s structure is disappointing, placing all of Kappus’s letters together after Rilke’s, rather than arranging them chronologically. Rilke fanatics will find some value in seeing Kappus’s side of the conversation, but the power of the book still lies in Rilke’s letters. (Nov.)