Rainer Maria Rilke on Embracing Our Unsolved Questions

 

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Rainer Maria Rilke (far left) and young Balthus and his mother, Baladine Klossowska. Via: (Artnet)

 

To be alive is to inquire. We ask questions to find answers. However, there are times when we can’t find the answers to the questions we raise. The questions seem overwhelming that we can’t dismantle them, and even make an attempt to answer them. Moreover, in this age of constant gratification, and information overload, it seems so amusing and appalling to have our questions unsolved. Then what’s the most graceful way to behave when we have unsolved questions? What do we do with them?

One of my favorite thinkers and poets, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), knows exactly what one must do with his or her unsolved questions. In a heartfelt letter dated from July 16th 1903, Rilke, already a famous poet, consoled Franz Kappus, the 19-year-old cadet and budding poet, who seemed to be eaten alive by his own immense unsolved existential questions.

Found in book titled Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke replies his letter beautifully:

“You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it–but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your inmost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing.”

I hope that Rilke’s letter to Kappus can be a wise reminder for us to always “live the questions” without any hesitation. Knowing how to be calm with our unsolved questions is, I believe, a path to become more grounded and wiser human being.

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