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Lehmann, H. (1966). A Conversation Between Freud and Rilke. Psychoanal Q., 35:423-427.

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(1966). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 35:423-427

A Conversation Between Freud and Rilke

Herbert Lehmann, M.D.

Those readers of Freud's essay On Transience (2), who combine interests in literature and psychoanalysis, must be puzzled about the 'young, but already famous poet' whose melancholy observations on the transience of nature's beauty provided Freud with the theme for his essay. Freud mentions that his conversation with the poet took place in the summer before the war, i.e., in 1913, yet an editorial footnote in the Standard Edition, while informing us that Freud spent part of August 1913 in the Dolomites, disappoints us by stating that the identity of his companions cannot be established.

Since the publication of The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé (6), I believe it has become possible to identify the young poet as Rainer Maria Rilke. In the entry headed 'Munich Congress' and dated September 7-8, 1913 (which is still summer), Lou Andreas-Salomé gives a brief account of the charged atmosphere at this memorable congress where the division between Freud and Jung became irreparable. She writes: 'Gebsattel … sat down at last in Freud's corner however, as I was bringing Rainer. I was delighted to bring Rainer to Freud, they liked each other, and we stayed together that evening until late at night.'

It must have been that evening that the conversation took place which Freud records in his essay On Transience. The 'taciturn friend' of whom he also makes mention was probably none other than Lou Andreas-Salomé. Leavy (6), in his very interesting introduction to her Freud Journal, comments specifically on her tendency to be silent in Freud's circle. The only doubt as to the correctness of the identification of the young poet is raised by Freud's remark that the conversation took place 'on a summer walk through a smiling countryside'. However, even if they did not go for a walk in the country that summer evening, we should grant Freud some poetic license in setting the mood for his essay. It was to be one of his contributions to a purely literary publication, entitled,


1 A Munich psychiatrist and friend of Lou Andreas-Salomé and Rilke.

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