Several months ago, I was Christmas shopping with my good friend Sam. After a lovely day of taking in a matinee and Indian food, we ventured to Kramer Books, where he convinced me that I NEEDED to buy this book titled Letters to a Young Poet. I am sooo glad I did. The text is a collection of correspondence between the Austro-Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and a young man named Franz Kappus. Although the young man initially requested a critique of his own poetry, what Rilke gave him (and us) was something much more valuable. Rilke writes of creating art, solitude, love, sex, and spirit.
One thing Rilke doesn’t seem to be noted for is his premonitions for the future– a feminist future. He writes this in 1904:
The girl and the woman, in their new, their own unfolding, will but in passing be imitators of masculine ways, good and bad, and repeaters of masculine professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions it will become apparent that women were only going through the profusion and the vicissitude of those (often ridiculous) disguises in order to cleanse their own most characteristic nature of distorting influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully and more confidently, must surely have become fundamentally riper people, more human people, than easygoing man, who is not pulled down below the surface of life by the weight of any fruit of his body, and who, presumptuous and hasty, under-values who he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, borne its full time in suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she will have stripped off the conventions of mere femininity in the mutations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching today will be surprised and struck by it. Some day… some day there will be girls and women whose name no longer signify merely the opposite of masculine, but something in itself, something that makes one think, not of any complement and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being.
This book and poet has since influenced my life in several ways, which I am going to share with you in a series I am calling “Rilke for Women,” or something like that. (Unless you have a better name, which you probably do, so, please.) I’m talking snippets of my own personal letters, cross-era cultural significances, the works. Stay tuned.
This post brought to you by Tara, who happens to be a feminine human being