First Advisor

H. F. Peters

Term of Graduation

Summer 1971

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in German


World Languages and Literatures




Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Paul Valéry (1871-1945)



Physical Description

1 online resource (112 leaves)


The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke was proficient in languages, and his favorite one was French. He had lived in Paris and had many friends in French literary circles. He exchanged letters with some of them before he even met them personally; such was the case with the French poet and writer Paul Valéry. However, before the two poets met, a “meeting of the minds” had taken place in the year 1921.

In the spring of 1921, after a lengthy period of silence, Rilke came across a copy of the Nouvelle Revue Française, a famous literary review, where Valèry had published his poem Le Cimetière Marin. Rilke's reaction was one of great enthusiasm and he began to read every work ever published by Valèry. As he learned more about the author, he became aware of various traits that they had in common; for instance, Valèry had also waited for inspiration for nearly twenty-five years, during which time he had devoted himself to the study of mathematics. Rilke saw that this patience had been well rewarded, the result being such works as the long poem Le Cimetière Marin and the two dialogues Eupalinos ou l’Architecte and L’Ame et la Danse. This last work, published in December 1921, particularly impressed Rilke, and he voices his enthusiasm in numerous letters.

The purpose of this thesis is to show the existence of a relationship between Valèry’s L’Ame et la Danse and Rilke's Sonette an Orpheus -- written in February 1922 -- and how the death of a young dancer, Wera Ouckama Knoop, served as a “catalyst” and prompted the birth of the sonnets. The title “an Orpheus” will be explained by the fact that Rilke had previously dealt with the myth of Orpheus in various works, and that he saw a rapport between his own thoughts on the subject and the way Valèry handled it in his works. The numerous themes and symbols common to both works, and particularly the theme of metamorphosis, are the subject of an investigation, which leads to the influence of the dialogue on the sonnets, as well as to the possible influence of other works by Valèry.

In a special chapter, a discussion is undertaken to prove that dance is a mostly narcissistic art, and to examine the attitude of both poets toward it.

The conclusion shows that, in spite of their different outlooks on poetry and the world, Rilke and Valery are an example of elective affinity (Wahlverwandtschaft) between two great minds.


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