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.

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3 Responses to “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?”

  1. Does it matter? Rilke was a poet. If you ever read any Osho, he says that the problem with poets is that they jump up to mystical heights and then fall back down again. They can’t stay stable in one place and hence they end up suffering quite a bit. You gotta understand that magic is the ultimate form of metapsychology, and that this doesn’t discount all the paranormal effects. “As Above, So Below”. If Rilke is writing about the same stuff you are experienceing, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a wizard, but it does mean he got to the same place you did one way or another.

  2. My sense from reading the Elegies is that Rilke is reacting to the _idea_ of angels, or other appearances of the divine and eternal, rather than to a specific experience. However, i also get the impression that Rilke would not have admitted to special revelations, even if he had experienced them.

    His “Letters to a Young Poet” is a worthwhile read for a perspective on Rilke’s spirituality.

  3. Hi Professor Dunn,
    I just stumbled across your blog on google. I recently read and enjoyed Magic Power Language Symbol and it’s been a very rich source of jumping off points for me recently. Reading through the blog, it occurred to me that you might be interested in a discussion that myself and a few other poets have been engaged in lately regarding the rise of materialism or lack of spirituality in certain currents of contemporary poetry. My own contribution can be found here: http://www.wetasphalt.com/content/mind-body-spirit-whatever-new-poetics-metaphysical which also links to the original article by Adam Fieled that kicked off the discussion.

    Also, I wrote an essay not too long ago exploring the interrelationship between sorcery, stage magic, religion, and the legal system (i’m a law student, so everything is about the law for me these days) that you might find interesting and which was informed a bit by your thoughts on magic and semiotics. If you’re interested, take a look here: http://www.wetasphalt.com/content/magician-priest-conjurer-lawyer-law-mysticism-magic-and-occult

    if you have a chance to read it, I’d be very interested to know what you think.

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