Rilke on Death – from his Letters

 Rilke’s poetry and letters dwell substantially on death and the transformation of suffering, as in these excerpts from his letters.

From the Letters of Rilke

We simply do not know what can be destroyed in a heart through suffering, or what suffering might achieve there.
As a poet, one should not even take distress for a lover but move all of affliction and bliss into one’s work. And one’s external life must be shaped by the refusal to suffer either affliction or bliss anywhere else.
Even despair is only abundance, an onslaught of our being that could be forced in the opposite direction with one single decision of the heart. Where something becomes extremely difficult and unbearable, there we also stand always already quite near its transformation.
Death is rooted so deeply in the essence of love that it nowhere contradicts love.

Liberation from Suffering

There is only one form of liberation for those who are continually submerged in suffering. This is to elevate suffering to the level of one’s own perspective and to transform it into an aid for one’s way of seeing.
We are true and pure only in our willingness toward the whole, the undecided, the great, and the greatest… Through loss, through great, immoderate loss, we are actually quite introduced into the whole. Death is only an unsparing way of placing us on intimate and trusting terms with that side of our existence that is turned away from us.

Acceptance of Suffering

Does our human state not obligate us to consent joyfully to everything that changes?

Mourning can be nothing but learning, nothing but achievement, the purest, most perfect coming to one’s senses…. There is no task as urgent for us as to learn daily how to die. But our knowledge of death is not increased by the renunciation of life. Only the ripe fruit of the here and now that has been seized and bitten into will spread its indescribable taste in us.

Life is also about Death

We must learn how to die: there is all of life. To prepare from afar the masterpiece of a proud and supreme death, of a death where chance does not play a role, of a death that is well wrought… An enthusiasm that the saints had known how to achieve; the masterpiece of a long-ripened death. Such a death effaces its odious name by restoring to the anonymous universe the recognized and rescued laws of an intensely accomplished life. During a long succession of experiences beginning in my childhood, this idea of death has painfully developed within me. It has now become my inner mandate to suffer this small death with humility in order to become worthy of that event, which needs us to be grand.

Death is the side of life that is turned away from us and out of our light’s reach. We must try to achieve the greatest consciousness of our existence that would be at home in both of these unlimited realms and inexhaustibly nourished by both. True life extends through both realms, the blood of widest circulation pulses through both. There is neither a Here nor a Beyond. Only the great unity where the beings that surpass us, the “angels,” are at home.