My girlfriend Liz gave me a slender colorless black tattered copy of “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke sometime during my early 20’s. The book did not look interesting, yet her hand written inscription was like a bright colored ribbon on the faded opening page. I was compelled to give the uninviting beaten up dark little book a chance.
I was smitten.
The book became a bible…a guiding light…a comforting lap to crawl into when the struggle to put myself through school left me disheartened and weary. I was living a rather bohemian lifestyle in a low-rent building right on main street in Bozeman. My apartment had a tall ceiling but no bathroom. One window opened into the upper story space between buildings…just bricks and windows. The other window overlooked the alley, more rooftops, and the stained glass steeple of a church. A carpet of tree tops stretched toward the jagged ridge of the Hyalite mountains past the edge of town. Passion to create meaningful art drove me. Juggling three jobs and a student load left little time to read but “Letters to a Young Poet” was read and reread along with other books by Rilke. Just yesterday a Rilke poem landed on my desk, soft and bright like the first yellow leaf of autumn…impossible to miss… full of meaning…a gift to share:
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs-
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.