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Letters to a Young Poet

Letters to a Young Poet

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Mark Harman

ISBN 9780674052451

Publication date: 04/18/2011

In 1902, a nineteen-year-old aspiring poet named Franz Kappus wrote to Rainer Maria Rilke, then twenty-six, seeking advice on his poetry. Kappus, a student at a military academy in Vienna similar to the one Rilke had attended, was about to embark on a career as an officer, for which he had little inclination. Touched by the innocence and forthrightness of the student, Rilke responded to Kappus’ letter and began an intermittent correspondence that would last until 1908.

Letters to a Young Poet collects the ten letters that Rilke wrote to Kappus. A book often encountered in adolescence, it speaks directly to the young. Rilke offers unguarded thoughts on such diverse subjects as creativity, solitude, self-reliance, living with uncertainty, the shallowness of irony, the uselessness of criticism, career choices, sex, love, God, and art. Letters to a Young Poet is, finally, a life manual. Art, Rilke tells the young poet in his final letter to him, is only another way of living.

With the same artistry that marks his widely acclaimed translations of Kafka’s The Castle and Amerika: The Missing Person, Mark Harman captures the lyrical and spiritual dimensions of Rilke’s prose. In his introduction, he provides biographical contexts for the reader and discusses the challenges of translating Rilke. This lovely hardcover edition makes a perfect gift for any young person starting out in life or for those interested in finding a clear articulation of Rilke’s thoughts on life and art.


  • Letters to a Young Poet is one of Rilke’s most popular books…well known to poets in their youth and an ideal handbook for beginning writers. Mark Harman’s burnished, elegant new translation is the fifth English version, and likely to become the standard one… Above all, these letters give the lie to the idea of Rilke as hopelessly self-regarding and cut off from authentic, ‘ordinary’ life. His tone may be elevated and his manner at times that of a dandy—he was elevated, he was a dandy—but the advice purveyed in these letters, and the observations and aperçus that they throw off, contain true wisdom, and are anything but platitudinous. Franz Kappus was a fortunate young man to have found such a correspondent, and we are fortunate in his good fortune.

    —John Banville, New York Review of Books


  • Mark Harman is Professor Emeritus of German and English at Elizabethtown College. His award-winning translations include Franz Kafka’s Amerika: The Missing Person and The Castle, as well as Herman Hesse’s Soul of the Age: Selected Letters and Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Book Details

  • 112 pages
  • 4-3/8 x 6-3/8 inches
  • Harvard University Press