Monthly Archives: April 2018

RTY: Letters To A Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke

Hi Everyone!

This sunny weather has been a complete joy. I’m so grateful it’s here! Gone are the dark days, hello to sunglasses and summer wardrobes. This increased amount of daylight also means more reading time. Finally!! I hope you’ve all been soaking up the sun and making time for yourselves, you lovely people, you.

I’m going to review my book choice for Penguin’s Read The Year theme for April today. I’d read this at the start of the month but work is so demanding (exam season is fast approaching) so I haven’t had chance, but I’m here now! The topic for April was: Grab a book that will help you explore your creativity. I thought this book would be perfect because it’s all about a journey into writing poetry.

 

What’s it all about?

Firstly, this little book needs some context to it. These letters were collected three years after the death of Rainer Maria Rilke by the recipient, Franz Xaver Kappus. He was 19 at the time and at a military university when he first wrote to the poet to ask whether he believed his poems were any good and to see whether he should proceed any further. These letters formed a beautiful friendship.

These ten letters span over a two year period, with each starting with the various locations Rilke was writing from. Rilke wrote them when he was 27, stopping just before he was 30. These letters provide advice about being honest to yourself and the encouragement to continue in pursuing a creative career. Despite such support and praise, the men never met.

Each of the men attended the same university, so their grounds of their communication was born. The first letter is from Paris on February 17th, 1903. He writes about how he doesn’t believe in criticism and that the best thing a creative mind can do is listen to himself. A poem is good when the poet feels that it derives from necessity. It is at that point that the poet won’t feel the need to ask others for their opinions.

He writes that Franz’s poems are good but they are heavily influenced by Germany’s leading contemporary poets. The advice he offers is to look deeper into oneself. He explains how a good poem comes from connecting with one’s deepest and truest sui generis nature. This is most difficult to find in poems like love poems and is advised to stay away. Therefore, Franz would be better writing about his personal surroundings, even when it may seem the images aren’t exceptional enough to be in a poem.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

The second letter in the collection is from Italy. Rilke begins by apologising for the delay in response and reveals he has been fighting an illness. Having read Franz’s work, Rilke offers two pieces of practical advice: don’t over use irony and whilst composing a poem, have some inspiring works near by e.g The Bible which he uses whenever he has writer’s block. These inspirations will help with any stoppages in writing as it provides a change in focus.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.”

One of the most famous letters is where the poet shares his angst about love, sex and his future careers which can all be used as inspiration for his poetry. Franz reveals his complete and utter loneliness. The advice is to produce something amazing. It is only in loneliness that one can be uncomfortably honest with oneself. Use it to flourish and grow.

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”

Throughout these letters we are also privy to some beautiful descriptions of foreign lands. Rome is described as a beautiful city and we see Rilke’s reaction to being here. Rome is full of beautiful paintings and astounding architecture. Despite this, Rilke is certain that if one can not find beauty in wherever they are, then one can only blame himself. The world is infinitely beautiful and if one is ever bored, it is because the individual is unwilling to exert some energy in seeing the world for what it really is. Go out and breathe it!

“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend.”

The following letter contains some lovely praise. He says there has been significant improvement in the young poet’s work. It is evident that Franz is deepening the personal knowledge he possesses and his work is something that only Franz could create. Of course, this is the real aim of writing poetry – expressing ones truest self. To show his appreciation and this movement to revealing oneself, Rilke transcribes the sonnet onto a blank sheet of paper. He claims this is often a useful tool for enhancing ones self awareness. I imagine you couldn’t get a higher form of praise in those days.

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

Letter eight deals with loss. From Sweden, Rilke writes that whenever one is sad, one should use the time to reflect on reasons why they are sad. Usually, it is due to some form of loss. We are able to recognise the nature of that loss and we create room for something new to enter our lives. Again, this can be used to create beautiful pieces of work. Channel those experiences into something wonderfully written.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change.”

The next letter is arguably the most profound in its dealings as it is how to handle doubt during the creative process. Whether you are a poet or painter, any creative person would have experienced this. Rilke encourages the young poet it see doubt as an opportunity for further creative explorations, to enhance and develop. Even when one experiences such negative emotions, as long as they as intense, they are beneficial to the poet’s writing endeavours. They can be used to inspire more meaningful writing.

“Don’t be too quick to draw conclusions from what happens to you; simply let it happen. Otherwise it will be too easy for you to look with blame… at your past, which naturally has a share with everything that now meets you.”

The final letter holds deep congratulations as the young writer has decided to avoid a career in journalism and criticism. He writes that Franz seems more courageous and hope that these qualities only deepen in the years to come. He has grown as a writer and can now truly be himself.

 

Overview

What is fascinating is that these letters are probably the ‘truest’ thing I’ve read. Each of the emotions we probably have all felt. Self doubt is one of the hardest battles one can face and this advice is so reassuring. It’s really incredible to watch this young poet flourish over the course of these letters. Sometimes we all need a little reassurance and guidance to excel. This little book is so insightful. I believe it fits the criteria for Read The Year this month beautifully. It something I enjoyed reading and can take my lessons from it into my own life. I hope you can too.

Enjoy the sunshine everyone!

Big love xx

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Book review, Little Black Classics, Read The Year Challenge

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

Hey Everyone!!

Happy April! I can’t believe we have reached this point in the year. January seems to be a distant memory. However, over this Easter holiday I have achieved one thing: to read plenty. I’ve chosen to review The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This book completely took hold of me. I’d read it over two days. I couldn’t not read it. I was desperate to know what happened. However, it sounds so ridiculous but I was so scared to read it because I was terrified as to what the outcome was going to be. Prepare to be on the edge of your seat.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel focuses on telling the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who spent three years in Auschwitz. However, it isn’t like the other Holocaust novels. This novel focuses on love, hope and survival. The amazing Heather Morris spent time with Lale gathering experiences to create this book. Boy, what an absolute treasure it is.

Lale knew exactly what was in store for him on that fateful day he was taken to Auschwitz. Luckily Lale landed a job as a tattooist, a job that gave him a slither of protection. Whilst doing this job, he meets a range of different people; one in particular catching his eye and changing his world forever.

‘Her eyes, however, dance before him. Looking into them his heart seems simultaneously to stop and begin beating for the first time, pounding, almost threatening to burst out of his chest.’

We see Lale travel to Auschwitz in a cattle cart with numerous people around him. You can imagine the sight, the smells and the sense of fear through the description. On his arrival to the camp he is stripped, searched and put into the striped uniform. During the cold, harsh nights, Lale sees people being shot for needing the toilet, one of whom is a child. It is at this moment that Lale makes a decision.

‘As they disappear into the darkness, Lale makes a vow to himself. I will leave this place. I will walk out a free man.’

 

There was a moment when my heart was in my mouth and I thought Lale wouldn’t make it. Actually, there were more than one. The first was when Lale got Typhus. As many historical accounts say, the sick were merely cast aside or shot. They were of no use as they couldn’t work. But in a tale of true heroism, many people saved him; the majority nameless. Pepan, a Tattooist, continues to look after him whenever he can along with those from Block 7.

“A young man was pleading with the SS to leave you, saying that he would take care of you. When they went into the next block he pushed you off the cart and started dragging you back inside.”

Not only did Pepan help save his life, he offered another lifeline: a job. Lale becomes a Tattooist with him. He can speak many languages which appeals to the officers. Yet tattooing causes a moral problem for Lale. He doesn’t wish to inflict harm on any other human being but he wants to survive. More than that, he wants to help others. Pepan reminds him of what an opportunity this is.

“I saw a half-starved young man risk his life to save you. I figure you must be someone worth saving.”

One huge reason why Lale survives is arguably because of Gita. With the help of an officer he finds which block she is in. This is the beginning of something beautiful after all. Despite the despair and daily horrors around him and many others in that situation, he tries to be friendly to everyone. He strikes a deal with Victor and Yuri who are working on the roof. They smuggle him food which he saves and passes around his friends. He asks the girls to keep looking for jewels so he can use them to repay the kindness of Victor. Of course, if any of them were caught, they’d be killed.

‘Victor closes his hand over Lale’s in a handshake, palming the jewels. Lale’s bag is already open and Victor quickly transfers some packages into it. Their alliance is now sealed.’

One of the most remarkable thing about this novel is the notion of hope. Lale is always hopeful about leaving; something he passes onto those he meets, especially Gita. Lale is completely in love with her. He goes out of his way to see her, strikes up a deal with officers in which chocolate plays a key role and they have beautiful, blissful moments together.

“There will be a tomorrow for us…We will survive and make a new life where we are free to kiss where we want to…”

Things take a turn for the worst when Lale’s stash is discovered. Rather fortunately (because once again my heart was in my mouth) Lale’s earlier kindness keeps him alive. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop him getting a severe beating. Everyone must do what needs to be done to survive in a place like that. This is just another example of that.

“You were kind to me and I will make the beating look worse than it is, but I will kill you before I let you tell me a name.”

The monotony of daily life at the camp is broken up. There is a sense of urgency as we proceed through the novel. It’s not just survival, it is a change in the atmosphere. Clearly something is happening to make the camp a hive of activity. People are coming to save them. It is at this point I probably felt most uncomfortable. Will they ever see each other again? Who will survive? What happens next? I was reading this and only noticed at the end just how tightly I was holding onto the book.

‘Whatever happens tomorrow will happen to all of them – together they will live or die.’

As they are all separated, the narrative almost splits. We see the girls taken away with many falling at the sides. We see Lale end up in a new role – providing nice girls for the soldiers, a role in which he is possibly even less comfortable than before. He pockets some jewels and finally decides to get freedom: a train to Bratislava. The whole time his thoughts are consumed with Gita. It takes two weeks but amazingly, thanks to the Red Cross, he finds her.

‘Then, with Gita’s arms around Lale’s waist and her head resting on his shoulder, they walk away, merging into the crowded street, one young couple among many in a war-ravaged city.’

Overview

It has been a long time since I’ve hung onto every word written in a book. I have probably never felt so much hope either. I bought and read this book with great trepidation. I find these events so utterly horrific and yet even though these were in the book, the overwhelming feeling is of hope. It is a remarkable story in every sense. Right until Gita’s death, Lale wanted to protect her, hence why the book wasn’t even written let alone published. Lale is a truly magnificent person and Heather Morris has done an amazing job in telling his story. Read this book; it will change your life.

Big love xx

11 Comments

Filed under Book review, Historical Fiction