Endless starting points

Ultimately, each of us experiences only one conflict in life which constantly reappears under a different guise, — mine is to reconcile life with work, in the purest sense; and where it is a question of the infinitely incommensurable work of the artist, the two directions stand opposed. Many people have helped themselves by taking life easily, by snatching what they needed from it apart from the conflict, or by turning life’s values into an intoxication whose wretched enthusiasms they hurriedly flung into art; others have no alternative but to withdraw from life — asceticism — and this way is of course much cleaner and truer than that rapacious cheating of life for the sake of art. But for me even asceticism cannot be considered. Since in the last analysis my productivity proceeds from the plainest adoration of life, from the daily, inexhaustible wonder of it (how could I have been productive otherwise?) — I would see it as a lie to reject any one of the currents that flow towards me; in the end every such failure must express itself in your art — however much art may gain potentially from it — as a certain hardness, and there take its revenge: for who can be open and affirmative on such sensitive ground if he has a mistrustful, restrictive and anxious attitude towards life! So one learns, oh how slowly, that life travels over endless starting-points — to what end, finally, can one apply one’s little abilities?
   Rodin often brooded on this in his old age. Sometimes, at five in the morning, I found him standing in the garden, lost in contemplation of the slopes of Sèvres and St. Cloud which slowly rose out of the wonderful autumn mists of the Seine, as though they were coming into the world faultlessly fashioned, — there he stood, the old one, and pondered: “What end can I serve when I gaze in wonder at the richness of it all, this morning…?” A year later, and he did not understand even this, simply could not understand it, had long been unable to, for an influence, a fatality far inferior to him had wrapped him round and swallowed him up in darkness and confusion from which no ray of splendour shone!

Rilke, letter to the Countess M. (trans. R.F.C. Hull)

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