This book was only 128 pages in length, and in those 128 pages Rilke considerably changed my view of the world, I'm sure for the better. Ten letters from Rilke to a young poet are included in this book. The letters are treasure troves of advice for any person, young or old, who wishes to realise what he may be missing in his life. The letters from the young poet to Rilke are not included (in the edition I've read at least), which slightly disappointed me. But then, including the letters of the young poet may have introduced an essence of anguished youth into the book, which could seriously interfere with the wise, soothing words of Rilke. The thing I liked the most about Rilke's letters was that he never attempted to inferently or directly scorn or scold his young addressee for any foolish or inconsiderate thoughts or actions. That would have reminded me too much of certain student-teachers who are over-zealous in lecturing about self-help by means of ridiculing the poor student who asks for it, ensuring that they are so humiliated that they will never proceed to read a book like this one ever afterwards. Without wasting any words, Rilke constructs beautiful, inviting sentences in which he calmly explains the importance of venturing into difficult areas of labour, including love, and even offers advice on how to deal with depression.
"How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are turned into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, only once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love... you must realise that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you go. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside of you?...If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien."
"And if there is one more thing I must say to you, it is this: Don't think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure. His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours. If it were otherwise, he would have never been able to find those words."
If I had discovered this book a year or two ago, when I had problems with my life and person which took a long time to resolve, I think that this book would have set me in the right direction sooner. However, mistakes, after all, are an essential part of learning, which is a difficult labour. Rilke would probably have approved.