By Gavin Aung Than
Apr 18, 2016
Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was an Austrian writer and is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Although he is rightly recognised for his poetry, he is also famous for his correspondence with a young writer collected in Letters to a Young Poet.
Rilke was the son of an army officer who was sent to military school to follow in his father’s footsteps. Thankfully, he managed to leave and pursue his calling of becoming a writer. Knowing this, 19 year-old aspiring poet Franz Kappus, who was then a cadet in military school, wrote to Rilke asking for advice as to which path he should choose. In his 10 letters to Kappas, Rilke offered profound advice on life, love and art, amazing considering that Rilke wasn’t even 30 at the time. Kappus published the letters in 1929, after Rilke had died.
In his first letter, after Kappus had asked him to critique his poetry, Rilke wrote:
“You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?”
The quote used in the comic is probably the most famous passage from Rilke’s letters and is taken from Letter #4. (You can read all of the letters at that link)
There’s some controversy in Australia at the moment over a government initiative calledSafe Schools. It’s a program designed to help LGBT students cope with bullying and deal with questions they might have about their sexuality. It’s brought out all sorts of homophobia and bigotry from those against the program. That got me thinking about doing a comic about a transgender student. I was also inspired by Lana Wachowski’s fantastic Human Rights Visibility Award acceptance speech in 2012.