Foreign literature in English

As a six year old I was made to get into the habit of reading books for two hours and fifteen minutes every day. This was the beginning of my everlasting affaire de cœur with books and literature. It was British literature that I really fell in love with, apart from the Indian tales of animals and morality that I enjoyed as a child.

It was only after my teenage years that I began reading non-British, European literature in English. I began with Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and since then, I became a self proclaimed Russophile but later realized that I read more German and French works than any other European literature. There was something very precious that I was able to partake of these works. There is a certain durability in German thoughts and sentiments that I have cherished since their advent in my life. This has been made possible by one of my favorite poets and man of letters, Rainer Maria Rilke.

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Rilke was introduced to me in my Bachelors but it was only in my first year of Masters that I decided to read him. I began with a slim volume titled Letters to a Young Poet.

This is a deeply philosophical literary work that I instantly connected with very intimately. Rilke in his warm, eloquent yet laconic style writes to his addressee (a young aspiring writer) about choices, solitude, love, sex, God and the uselessness of criticism amongst many other important things that a young person is unaware of or daunted by in an age of disbelief, constant solitude, and philosophical anxiety.

As I read him, it seemed as though he had written those letters for me. There was something very personal in his diction, personal and yet so beautiful. I, being a student of literature, and a woman who loved to write was made to show that criticism was a futile thing. It made me realize, reading and writing—such very personal choices and acts could be judged only by us and no one else. My fear of getting criticism dissolved in the love that I received through this great man. He showed me that one had to spend time with oneself in order to be creative, in order to find a goal, however vague and grandiloquent the goal may be. He put the ground that I had searched for so long, beneath my feet. He gently got rid of the social stigmas and taboos that young people like me were besieged with, with a warmth akin to the winter sun—soft, luminescent, welcome and very hopeful.

Rilke wrote about so many beautiful, important and unconventional things in those ten letters of his. He wrote about the self, solitude, and most importantly about life. This very characteristic makes him a glorious figure at the intersections of tradition and modernity. His poems too ring with the same sentiments that he professes so lovingly in these letters.

I believe this book is very important for a person who is starting out in life and is faced with uncertainties and doubts, or for those people who want to write better and for those who are already avid Rilke readers because this book helps us to understand life better as well as makes us realize how Rilke’s thoughts affected his works. In short, it is a book that I carry with me wherever I go because reading it every time gives me this indescribable feeling of being loved and at home, and makes me grow as a person.

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Author: Kastoori Barua
Feature image: Jedidja
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