Love poems? They no longer exist


Ashlyn Awada

A small restaurant patio. Little twinkling lights above vaguely recognizable tables and chairs in the dark summer night

Ashlyn Awada

In Letter’s to a Young Poet, there is a letter dated “17 February 1903” with the location “Paris” above the date.

This was a letter from the bohemian Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke to a young aspiring writer, Franz Xaver Kappus, who was at the time of correspondence an officer cadet at a military academy. The lower school of this academy Rilke attended in his teens.

They shared this connection.

Rilke: “do not write love poems, at least at first; they present the greatest challenge. It requires great, fully ripened power to produce something personal, something unique, when there are so many good and sometimes even brilliant renditions in great numbers.”

Fully ripened power, what does he mean by this, self-actualization?

It would have still been a romantic time when this letter was sent. When formulating written communication was a slower process, requiring careful transfer of ideas from the mind to paper.

The reference captures something ill of our times: impatience. No one experiences unbearably excitement, frustration, or even general discomfort thinking about if and when their thoughts will reach someone physically.

We don’t do this anymore: we aren’t forced to engage in slow processes and so we really don’t. Something like writing a love letter is rare and not even because it’s weak and a banal act or gesture, it’s because it warrants time and real experience.

Contemporary life is not romantic, like it probably was in 1903.  There’s a great blurring of needs versus wants. A distortion of time. And everyone is rushing. To ripen, achieving something personal and unique is one aspect, to produce something original is another. They both demand patience, time…