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This article is taken from PN Review 21, Volume 8 Number 1, September - October 1981.

Letter to a Young Poet Hermann Hesse

THANK you for your nice letter and for sending me your poems and stories. Your letter suggests a trust in which I must unfortunately disappoint you. I would have to do so even if I were not suffering from bad eyesight and were not burdened by an excessive intake of letters. For what you are hoping for from me I am not able to provide.

You submit to me your poetic writings and ask me to read them and to tell you when I have read them what I think of your poetic gifts. You ask me to be unsparing in my verdict and frank in my comments, flatteries are of no use to you. Your question, put simply, is: Am I a poet? Am I sufficiently gifted to have the right to publish my writings and, it may be, make the writing of books my vocation?

Nothing would please me more than to match the concise question with a concise answer. But that is not possible. I consider it to be completely impossible to draw from the samples of a beginner any conclusions as to his abiding aptitude as a poet. Whether you are endowed with talent is more easily determined, but talent is no rare phenomenon, the world is teeming with talent, and a young man of your age and level of education would have to be of downright subnormal ability if he were to be incapable of writing adequate poems or themes. ...


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