In one of the famous “Letters to a Young Poet “, which Rilke wrote when he was merely 28, he gives this advice:
“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. 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? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity…”
I don’t think any poet has ever been so finely, so spiritually, so absolutely one-upped. After Rilke was finished with the job, the poor young poet probably went back to the family haberdashery business and tossed out the ditties.
Now, I wouldn’t dream of putting myself on the same stage with Rilke, but, recently, I was in a similar situation. A young plumber, who knew my reputation with a pair of pliers and couple of cross cleats, sent me the specs for an S trap that he’d recently installed and asked me if I thought his teflon taping technique was any good. He admitted, like the young poet, that he had asked many others, one of whom (a beerish chap who happened to be his boss), had asked him if he was fucking around on the job again. Ah, the vulgarity to which the delicate soul of the dedicated plumber is subject. I, of course, followed Rilke’s lead. Has the proper conduction of detritus and the hydrodynamics of faucet flow, I asked him, sunk into your dreams, your hopes, and your sex life? In the quietest hour of your quietest night, I asked, have you ever pondered an existence in which, by some tyrant’s order, you were forbidden to use a strap wrench? Would you feel like one of Beckett’s tramps, that you couldn’t go on, or do you think you’d just jerryrig a substitute with an indutrial pair of sheers and the elastic strap wripped from an old pair of BVDs? If the latter, I am afrain I can’t help you: crassness has crept over your soul like aspergillus fumigatus over a damp carpet. If, however, you affirm, with every turn of your locking jaw wrench that I will, I must, I just haveta plumb – then, and only then, my son, have you found the pivot of your service in the construction, maintenance, and sanitation industries! In confirmation of which, I urge you to buy a six pack of Blue Ribbon and drain it on Saturday morning, before breakfast, whilst chanting dithyrambs to the ancient Greek Muse of Plumbing, Drainophene, as is done by all the true plumbers I’ve ever met.