“Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke

In 1902, a 19-year-old student Franz Kappus sent Rainer Maria Rilke – already then famous author which will be considered later as one of the most significant in the German language and a notable master of lyrics – his poems and asked him for advice about becoming a writer. Rilke’s response to a young poet, in my view, is an enchanting, unique aesthetic and philosophical reflection on the desperate seeking of external confirmation of one’s creative or intellectual work instead of listening to your inner voice and trusting your own judgement. I urge you to read these absorbing lines:

“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity… Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside.”

In 1929, three years after Rilke’s death, Kappus published his correspondence with Rilke, entitling it Letters to a Young Poet; the above excerpt is from the first letter.
The ES/PE community is not about arts. Our community is about an intellectual and learned endeavor to understand the social worlds. Therefore academics research, write and publish. I am a strong believer that innermost commitment, confidence and persistence are essential to fulfill the higher mission of a scholar: to uncover the hidden, to question the unquestionable and to disseminate the seeds of insights on the fields of knowledge and action for the common good. This difficult yet deeply satisfying journey always starts from looking into ourselves…

See alsoProbably the best “Acknowledgments” ever // Albert Einstein on the power of ideas and imagination in science // The Art of Writing // Academic CV of Failures – a motivational lesson // Theodor Adorno on philosophy‬, academia and the market // Mark Granovetter didn’t win (yet) the ‪‎Nobel Prize. Here is his rejection letter, from 1969

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One Response to “Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”

  1. Pingback: Academic CV of Failures – a motivational lesson | Economic Sociology and Political Economy

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