Study Guide


by Maria Rainer Rilke

Childhood Themes


In “Childhood” Rilke conveys an incredible level of synchronicity. The events that occur to the child coincide with conventional ideas of passage of time, such as that of becoming an adult, the stolen childhood (as experienced by children of unhappy marriages), and, lastly, as a window into the Rilke’s own soul. To achieve this three-fold explanation in a four stanza poem goes far beyond the conventional mechanics of causality. Rilke weaves a subtle web of anxiety and confusion with happiness, creating a mournful feeling for the child, for children in general and, finally, for Rilke himself. He writes of “soundless terror changing back and forth with trust” and “sadness without reason.” These statements, made upon the reflection of childhood and the future of adulthood, create a synchronicity that span the characters, the ages and Rilke’s own persona. All of this occurs in Rilke’s short breath of beautiful imagery and rich literary technique.

The child has an obvious disdain for his imprisonment in school and is eager to celebrate his release. Yet even when he is enjoying his freedom, playing with his friends, the child is aware of how different he is from his peers. The condition of removal runs throughout the entirety of “Childhood.” The solitude the child feels in his own skin, even amongst others, creates an incurable sense of loneliness in the boy. (While some translators have interpreted this theme as that of "loneliness,"...

(The entire section is 618 words.)