There is a writer’s writer and an artist’s artist. Rainer Maria Rilke was one of those writers who was a muse to other writers. Not only writers but also many actors such as Marilyn Monroe and Dustin Hoffman admired Rilke.
American singer Lady Gaga tattooed one of Rilke’s quotes on her arm. The words she tattooed is an excerpt from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. What was so deep and profound about those words that captivated the famous singer, making her tattoo it so that she could remember them for the rest of her life? “In the deepest hour of the night, / Confess to yourself that you would die if you were forbidden to write.” Gaga grasped the pure spirit of art from Rilke’s words that art is not a simple feeling of excitement or sentiment but is rather a matter of life and death.
The quote is from Rilke’s reply to a letter he received from a 19-year-old poet aspirant who was attending the military school. The would-be poet was lost, as his temperament was not fit for military service. Rilke had been in the same position. Forced into military academy by his parents, Rilke spent five years which left him in despair and bitterness. Eventually, the poet relinquished everything and embarked on the life of a poet. It was indeed appropriate for the prospective poet to ask Rilke for advice on the life as a poet. Rilke’s answer was straightforward: to become a poet, one should do all within his power as if it was a matter of life and death and look deep inside himself and see if he has courage to die if he cannot write poem. It was not just an empty threat. Rather, it was what Rilke told his younger self. Throughout his life, the poet fiercely wrote over 2,000 poems. Poetry was his reason for existence.
The 10 letters Rilke that wrote to would-be poet Franz Xaver Kappus have now become public property with their publication under the title, “Letters to a Young Poet,” after Rilke’s death. Many artists have thus come to imagine that the letters were sent to themselves. Lady Gaga pledged herself when she tattooed the words―that she would follow the steps of Rilke by leading a passionate life so that her voice becomes her reason for existence.