If we think of
this existence of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it
appears evident that most people learn to know only a corner of
their room, a place by the window, a strip of floor on which they
walk up and down. Thus they have a certain security.
And yet that dangerous insecurity is so much more human which
drives the prisoners in Poe's stories to feel out the shapes of
their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable
terror of their abode.
are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and
there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are
set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond,
and over and above this we have through thousands of years of
accommodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we
are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from
all that surrounds us.
We have no
reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has
it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses
belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them.
And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which
counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that
which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we
most trust and find most faithful.
How should we
be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of
all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn
into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are
princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and
brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being
something helpless that wants help from us.
So you must
not be frightened, Dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises up before
you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like
light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you
do. You must think that something is happening with you,
that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it
will not let you fall.
to a Young Poet is a superb series of
letters from Czech
poet Rainer Maria Rilke
to Mr. Kappus, a young poet who
writes to Rilke
for advice on his poetry and his life. Rilke's
responses are heartfelt, spiritual, and deeply
insightful, and they make for wonderful reading.