Rainer Maria Rilke on Writing Being Your Purpose and Judging Art

Inkwell and feather with old paper on grunge table

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; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…

…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty.

Describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.

If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place.

And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?

Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past.

Your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.

And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not.

Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.

“A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke



  1. says

    The shared understanding of the compulsion to write is such a saving grace, and Rilke always passionate and poetic. Thank you for posting this. I have noticed that people find it easier to understand our other hobbies, for lack of a better word, without getting as focused on outcomes…and incomes. Making money is a bonus, but writing is not a commodity. It is a way of digesting life.

    • says

      That’s beautiful Pia, completely agree. Everything feels completely off-centre unless we write. It’s not a pastime but a huge part of who we are. How we express that as well as how we contemplate and experience life, and then translate that into language is a need as much as a want, as much a part of us as our own breath, perhaps just as transient and cyclical. I loved what you wrote about incomes and outcomes. Thank you for your lovely comment. ♥


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.