Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, DUINO ELEGIES: 2, by RAINER MARIA RILKE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

DUINO ELEGIES: 2, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

Rainer Maria Rilke's "Duino Elegies," translated by Stephen Mktchell, specifically the first and second elegies, are a rich tapestry of existential, metaphysical, and emotional queries that sit at the intersection of beauty and terror. The poems invite us into a universe teeming with angels, lovers, and landscapes that form the metaphysical terrain of human anxiety and yearning.

Rilke opens the first elegy with an invocation of celestial powers, questioning who would hear him "among the angels' hierarchies." However, this is no comforting view of the angelic; rather, every angel is "terrifying." Rilke's celestial beings are not the guardian angels of popular imagination but emanations of an overwhelming existence that humans are barely equipped to comprehend. The beauty of the angelic form is nothing less than the "beginning of terror," a phrase that haunts the first elegy as a central theme.

At the heart of this emotional dissonance is an existential loneliness, a feeling that humans are "not really at home in our interpreted world." In the midst of this, Rilke offers minor consolations: perhaps a tree on a hillside or "yesterday's street," a loyalty of habits. It's a fragmented form of comfort but one that is tangible in its familiarity.

The second elegy, which opens with the line "Every angel is terrifying," extends and deepens the themes initiated in the first. It questions the existential plane that humans occupy, contrasting it with the angelic existence that seems to be both terrifying and alluring. While the angels are described as "Creation's pampered favorites," humans are ephemeral beings, "evaporating" when moved by deep emotions. The allegory of lovers comes into play here, symbolizing the fleeting nature of human experience and its ultimate inadequacy in containing the profundity of existence.

Where the first elegy posits a dichotomy between human and angelic realms, the second elegy questions the very boundaries of these categories. Are humans and angels so different after all? Do "the angels really reabsorb only the radiance that streamed out from themselves," or is there a trace of human essence in their celestial constitution? Rilke leaves these questions unanswered, heightening the disquiet that runs through the elegies.

What's striking about both elegies is Rilke's ability to dwell in ambiguity, where meaning and emotion are fluid, existing in a state of constant tension and release. He does not provide a neat resolution to the complexities he raises, suggesting that the enigma of human existence cannot be easily unraveled. The realm between "river and rock," as Rilke phrases it in the second elegy, remains a mystery- one that accommodates both beauty and terror, love and loneliness.

The historical and cultural context is equally rich. Written during a period of seismic shifts in art, philosophy, and science, the "Duino Elegies" encapsulate the spirit of an age grappling with the breakdown of traditional metaphysical and religious certainties. Rilke himself was deeply influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and existential questions concerning the role of the individual in an uncaring, absurd universe.

In sum, Rilke's first and second "Duino Elegies" are not merely poems but philosophical meditations on the complexities of human existence, rendered in language that is at once beautiful and unsettling. They offer a mirror to our deepest anxieties and longings, reflecting an image that is as disquieting as it is strangely comforting.

Copyright (c) 2024 PoetryExplorer

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net