Letter to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke


We have no reason to harbour any mistrust against our world,

for it is not against us.

If it has terrors, they are our terrors.

If it has abysses, these abysses belong to us.

If there are dangers, we must try to love them,

and only if we could arrange our lives,

 in accordance with the principle that tells us

that we must always trust in the difficult,

then what now appears to us to be alien

will become our most intimate and trusted experience.


How could we forget those ancient myths

that stand at the beginning of all races –

the myths of dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses?

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are only princesses

waiting for us to act, just once,

with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is,

in its deepest essence,

something helpless that wants our love.


So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises before you

larger than any you’ve ever seen,

if an anxiety like light and cloud shadows

moves over your hands and everything that you do.

Life has not forgotten you.

It holds you in its hands and will not yet you fall.

Why do you want to shut out of your life

any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?

For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you. 


From “Letters to a Young Poet”, translated by Reginald Snell, in Rilke Poems, Everyman’s Library, 1996.