A puzzle I haven’t solved for 25 years. Thought you might have insight. In “The Duino Elegies”, Rilke goes on about angels as if he’s had experience with them. Do you think he was a real mystic, or just a great poet using mysticism as a literary conceit?
Well, I don’t know if there’s any historical evidence off the top of my head, but it’s hard not to imagine that Rilke didn’t at least have a mystical turn. His Torso of the Archaic Apollo pretty much lays out the power of art to change lives, which sounds like magic to me. But the use of mysticism, as you say, as a poetic conceit is pretty common at this time, so I’m not sure it’s possible to say that he was certainly an occultist (like Yeats, who was; or Pound, who dabbled). At the very least, he foresaw the turn toward the mystical that modernist poetry would take with the decline of faith.