The Task of Transformation: Rilke and Hermetic Tradition



Two late masterpieces – the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus – crown Rilke’s remarkable literary career. The two cycles – completed in one and the same flood of inspiration in February of 1922 – are deeply kindred works which nonetheless display dramatic contrasts in from and tenor. This talk aims to articulate somethig of the gist of Rilke’s poetic vision by staging a hermeneutic encounter with salient passages of the Elegies and Sonnets. Correlateively, we’ll endeavor to place Rilke within the broader context of western esotericism, particularly the Hermetic tradition. We’ll draw upon some of that tradition’s founding tenets (the famous diictum “as above so below”; the idea of the individual as microcosm; the centrality of imagination) as well as Jung’s own ideas of the Self and its transcendent function to help construe Rilke’s vision of the mission of the human being, what in his Elegies the poet calls “the task of transformation.”

Attendees are encouraged to (re)read Rilke’s Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus. We’ll pay special attention to the beginning of each poem cycle. Don’t miss this extraordinary experience.


Daniel Polikoff, Ph.D., is a poet, translator, and internationally recognized Rilke scholar. His well-received book on Rilke and archetypal psychology In the Image of Orpheus: A Soul History appeared from Chiron in 2011; in 2014, he has published an article (in German) on Rilke and Joseph Campbell. He lives with his wife and son in Mill Valley.


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