In late autumn 1902 while a student at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt in Lower Austria, Franz Xaver Kappus was reading Rilke's poetry. He was approached by the academy's chaplain, Horacek. According to Horacek, Rilke had been a pupil years earlier at the academy's lower school at Sankt Pölten. Horacek expressed surprise that the former pupil had "become a poet" and described the young Rilke as a "thin, pale boy" whose quiet demeanor proved unable to bear the strain of a military education and life. Rilke did not continue his military education. At the time that Kappus learned this, he was inclined toward writing and was not very keen on the notion of dedicating his life to the military. Kappus then decided to write to Rilke for advice.
This book consists of ten letters written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus. Kappus wrote his first letter to Rilke looking for guidance and a critique of some of his poems. Rilke provided the young Kappus very little in criticism or in suggestions for his improvement as a poet. Instead, Rilke discouraged Kappus from reading criticism and advised him to trust his inner judgment.
Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.
Rilke provided advice that inspired Kappus to search broader issues of intimacy and the nature of beauty and art, as well as probing philosophical and existential questions.
Ask yourself in your night's quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.
This book was a challenging read for me but when I read it more than once to understand the content of the letters, I realized it offers a lot of valuable advice which encourages us to have a deeper connection with our inner self if we struggle between doing what we love and earning a living.
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: Letters to a Young Poet.