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Letters to a Young Poet

"Letters to a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke

“Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke, Translation by M. D. Herter Norton

“Then draw to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.” Letter One, 16

Born in 1875, the great German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke published his first collection of poems in 1898 and went on to become renowned for his delicate depiction of the workings of the human heart. Drawn by some sympathetic note in his poems, young people often wrote to Rilke with their problems and hopes. From 1903 to 1908 Rilke wrote a series of remarkable responses to a young, would-be poet on poetry and on surviving as a sensitive observer in a harsh world. Those letters, still a fresh source of inspiration and insight, are accompanied here by a chronicle of Rilke’s life that shows what he was experiencing in his own relationship to life and work when he wrote them.

“For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to whom he has attached himself.” Letter One, 17

“After all this it is not hard to understand how I determined in that very hour to send my poetic attempts to Rainer Maria Rilke and to ask him for his opinion. Not yet twenty and close on the threshold of a profession which I felt to be entirely contrary to my inclinations, I hoped to find understanding, if in any one, in the poet who had written Mir zur Feier. And without having intended to do so at all, I found myself writing a covering letter in which I unreservedly laid bare my heart as never before and never since to any second human being.” -Franz Xaver Kappus, Berlin, June 1929, Introduction, 12

“If you will cling to Nature, to the simple in Nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and that can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you…” Letter Four, 27

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Bat Poetry

The other day, Dianne Odegard, from Bat Conservation International, visited my Nature & the Quest for Meaning to discuss bats. After giving a PowerPoint presentation about the myths and misconceptions of bats, Dianne asked us to create poetry about the winged beasts. She challenged us to team up with the person next to us and create a haiku about the unusual mammals and submit them to the Bat Conservation website afterwards.

Haikus use a structure composed of 3 lines, the first and last lines containing 5 syllables and the middle line containing 7. These are some of the haikus that my classmates and I constructed.

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What Am I? #6

I can be green. I can be brown.
I can look colorful or dull.
Not only can I come in different colors, I can also come in different shapes.
In the water or on the land, I can live just about anywhere!
Though no matter where I live, I always have my home on my back,
Allowing me to take life slowly as I please.
What am I?

Highlight or double-click for the answer.
Answer: [ Turtle ]

< What Am I? #5 |

Blackberry Picking

"Blackberry Picking" by Seamus Heaney

“Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney

Through the innocent act of blackberry picking, Seamus Heaney tells of an experience that creates a deeper understanding. Throughout his poem, Blackberry Picking, Heaney manipulates language to not only convey a literal description, but also bring about philosophical thought. Hidden within allusions, similies, rhymes, and personification, his complex ideas emerge.

Opening the poem with strong imagery, Heaney describes a scene in late August. Using colors, he identifies and describes the ripening blackberries and uses a rhyme to compare the first one, “a glossy purple clot” (Line 3) to its later siblings, “red, green, hard as a knot.” (Line 4) This rhyming imagery also contains a simile that allows the reader to better understand his meanings. His use of simile continues when he uses second person to involve the reader in tasting the sweetness of the berry “like the thickened wine.” (Line 6) This involvement greatly enhances the reader’s comprehension and includes him in the poem, allowing him to experience the events himself. This creates a greater connection between the reader and the poem and makes Heaney’s imagery more lively.

When describing nature, Heaney then personifies summer, allowing it to bleed the sweet blackberry juice into the reader’s mouth demonstrating the importance of the berries and their strong ties with summer. Heaney even involves himself in the poem, introducing his own thoughts and ideas and sharing the experience with the reader. From his firsthand involvement, Heaney can create another simile expressing the top big dark blobs burning “like a plate of eyes.” (Line 15)

With a final allusion, Heaney ends his first stanza, ending the cheerful and innocent act of picking blackberries with an ironic connection. With “palms sticky as Bluebeard’s” Heaney alludes that his hands are covered in summer’s blood as the fairy tale character’s hands were covered with his wife’s blood. This pessimistic line foreshadows the following stanza.

Greeted with striking juice and fermented fruit, Heaney finds an unfortunate ending to his innocent act. Ending his poem with a rhyme, Heaney helps emphasize his poem’s deeper meaning. “The lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.” (Lines 23-24)


What Am I? #5

I am always served at a table,
Usually of 2, but sometimes of 4.
I am always small with a pearly exterior.
What am I?

Highlight for the answer.
Answer: [ PingPong Ball ]

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