Rilke on Sex

Rainer Maria Rilke - Letters To A Young Poet

Physical pleasure is a sensual experience no different from pure seeing or the pure sensation with which a fine fruit fills the tongue; it is a great unending experience, which is given us, a knowing of the world, the fullness and the glory of all knowing. And not our acceptance of it is bad; the bad thing is that most people misuse and squander this experience and apply it as a stimulant at the tired spots of their lives and as distraction instead of a rallying toward exalted moments.

O that man might take this secret, of which the world is full even to its littlest things, more humbly to himself and bear it, endure it, more seriously and feel how terribly difficult it is, instead of taking it lightly. That he might be more reverent toward his fruitfulness, which is but one, whether it seems mental or physical, is of one nature with it and only like a gentler, more ecstatic and more everlasting repetition of physical delight. - In one creative thought a thousand forgotten nights of love revive, filling it with sublimity and exaltation. And those who come together in the night and are entwined in rocking delight do an earnest work and gather sweetnesses, gather depth and strength for the song of some coming poet who will arise to speak of ecstasies beyond telling.

And in fact artistic experience lies so incredibly close to that of sex, to its pain and its ecstasy, that the two manifestations are indeed but different forms of one and the same yearning and delight. And if instead of heat one might say - sex, sex in the great broad, clean sense, free of any insinuation of ecclesiastical error, then his [Richard Dehmel] art would be very grand and infinitely important. His poetic power is great strong as a primitive instinct; it has its own unyielding rhythms in itself and breaks out of him as out of mountains.

But it seems that this power is not always honest and without pose. (But this again is one of the hardest tests of the creative individual: he must always remain unconscious, unsuspecting of his best virtues, if he would not rob them of their ingenuousness and untouchedness!) And then, where as it rushes through his being, it comes to the sexual, it finds not quite so pure a man as it might require. Here is no thoroughly mature and clean sex world, but one that is not sufficiently human, that is only male, is heat, intoxication and restlessness, and laden with the old prejudices and arrogances with which man has disfigured and burdened love. Because he loves as man only, not as human being, for this reason there is in his sexual feeling something narrow, seeming wild, spiteful, time-bound, uneternal, that diminishes his art and makes it ambiguous and doubtful. It is not immaculate, it is marked by time and by passion, and little of it will survive and endure. (But most art is like that!) Nevertheless one may deeply rejoice in what there is of greatness in it, only one must not lose oneself in it and become an adherent of that Dehmelian world which is so unspeakably apprehensive, full of adultery and confusion, and so far from the real destinies that cause more suffering than these temporal afflictions but also give more opportunity for greatness and more courage for eternity.