It was not only Rodin’s fame that brought Rilke to him. Rilke had a passionate desire to know a master, a figure who could fill his imagination with a kind of authority that his father no longer had for him. When Rilke prepared for his trip to Paris in the summer of 1902, his expectations were high. He arrived in August, waited a few days, and finally presented himself at 182 rue de l’Université. The two blue-eyed men sat opposite each other.
A week later Rilke wrote his new master a staggering letter in which he poured forth his desire to give himself up to the higher force he had found in Rodin. He knew Rodin might think it strange to get a letter from him . . . but when he was with Rodin, he felt the insufficiency of his French “like a sickness.” So he preferred to sit in the solitude of his room and “prepare the words.” He wrote some verses in French for Rodin.
“Why do I write these lines?” the letter said. “Not because I believe them to be good but out of my desire to draw near to you so that you can guide my hand. You are the only man in the world of such equilibrium and force that you can stand in harmony with your own work . . . This work, like you yourself, has become the example for my life and my art. It is not just to write a study that I have come to you, it is to ask you: how should I live? And you have responded: work.”
Shortly after I met Maezumi Roshi, I came for a visit and read him these words. He smiled, “Is that for me?” We were driving to a flower shop, where he picked out a plant for his mother-in-law. “It has to be big,” he laughed.