Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why we do what we do

Someone asked me the other day what drives me to write. I hardly knew how to answer this. What drives a person to be themselves, I might well have been asked. But later, I thought of this wonderful passage from Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainier Maria Rilke. These words have stood in the place of mine more than once. And they speak to all passions, I think.

Why do you do what you do? Why do you want to be in your career? To teach, to research, farm, build, nurse, nurture, whatever.
well, you get my point.
The words of this section (found on pages 18-19 of Rilke's brilliant little book) aren't about result, mind you, they're about motive, about the 'why' for each of us. Vocation, calling--whatever it is that MAKES us do what we do, be who we are as we do it, and live for the doing. Yes, breathe for it, if you know what I mean...but then, if you know what I mean, perhaps you don't need these words.
Nevertheless, here they are, 'without further ado.' [bold type my emphasis!]

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night--must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "I must," then build your life according to this necessity; your life even to its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

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