Rilke on Being an Artist

Yesterday, I was reading a favorite blog, Half-Assed Mama, and Amy had posted a little bit from Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous book Letters to a Young Poet. Her post made me want to pull out my old dusty copy and read it again. To be honest, I don’t think I ever fully read it—it was one of those books that I heard mentioned many times and so bought it, but wasn’t able to access it at the time of purchase, and so it ended up sitting on my shelf. Yesterday afternoon, lounging in the sun with my dog, I came upon this part that felt so peaceful and poignant and beautifully written:

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

There is here no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”

~Rainer Maria Rilke (from Letters to A Young Poet)

That line in the second paragraph really gets me: “who are as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.” What a beautiful way to live. This really gives me a lot of peace on the subject of development and growth, something I think about often and struggle with regularly—always wanting things to happen more quickly or differently. Rilke seems to be saying, “breathe, relax, be still and wide.”

I hope you’re finding some peace and wideness today!


8 Responses to “Rilke on Being an Artist”

  1. 1 Leah March 23, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This is such a hard lesson to learn, the being still, patient, and waiting when you feel as if you could not bear your struggle any longer. I love Rilke’s words “Everything is gestation”. There is no wiggle room there for thinking your circumstances are different, or your project/birth is taking too long.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  2. 3 Amy March 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Oh wow, Nicole–what’s amazing is how much I needed to read *this* part right now too! I think I’d better go find my own old copy. xoxo

  3. 4 Kerri March 25, 2011 at 2:03 am

    AAAH! So fabulous! I read that book years ago and think it is pure genius! I LOVE the exact same sentence as you do! I know, your shocked aren’t you?

  4. 5 Kerri March 25, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Sorry, me again! Forgot to say LOVE this art work!

  5. 7 Geoff M. Pope April 2, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Tremendous entry, especially fitting to readigest on a mid-Saturday morning after spring break in Greece.

    I read, savored, and was challenged by *Letters to a Young Poet* as an undergrad Pre-Law or English/Classics major/minor. My best college girlfriend gave me the slim book, whichelped to steer/star me away from law school. That said, I recently met an extraordinary ex-attorney who now writes some of the best ekphrastic poetry I’ve ever seen.

    Okay, I know this is not my blog, but here’s my current favorite Rilke poem:

    The Spanish Dancer

    As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
    flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
    with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
    her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

    And all at once it is completely fire.

    One upward glance and she ignites her hair
    and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
    into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
    from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
    naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

    And then: as if the fire were too tight
    around her body, she takes and flings it out
    haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
    and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
    still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die —
    Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
    exultant smile, she looks up finally
    and stamps it out with powerful small feet.

    ~Maria Rainer Rilke
    trans. by Stephen Mitchell

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Hello there! My name is Nicole K. Docimo, and I am an artist and writer from the U.S.A. but currently residing in Zurich, Switzerand. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Some Thoughts

"Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring."

{from "Joy at Sudden Disappointment"
translated by C. Barks.}

~This Work ~

Unless otherwise noted, all images and writings on this blog were created by me, Nicole K. Docimo aka Blue Bicicletta. If you would like to share anything you see here for inspirational purposes online, I just ask that you kindly let folks know where you found it. If you are wanting to share/reproduce any of my work in any other way, or have any questions about how you will be sharing the work in relation to copyright, please contact me directly at nkdocimo {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks!

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