Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the section of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge that deals with lace, looking at the family lace is something the young Malte and his mother like to do. They carefully unwind the familiar specimens from a spindle and behold their patterns with awe and wonderment yet again. By writing a second part to “The Lace” months after completing the first, Rilke is doing the same thing, taking another look at the lace, seeing something else in it, describing it in a different form.

Like any good work of art, the lace rewards repeated visits. Aesthetically pleasing, it remains the same in a changing world. It is interesting that Rilke, in part 2 of the poem, presents this permanence and perfection as particularly pleasing to adults, which has to do with his perception of the adult world as not necessarily an improvement over the world of a child, as hardly worth the effort of outgrowing “our first pair of/ shoes.” Above all, adulthood seems to the poet a time of uncontrollably changing fortunes, as if one hardly gets settled when something else happens to cause a disruption.

As evidenced by the different locales in which Rilke wrote the two parts of the poem, he had no permanent home in his adult life. Rilke lived the life of a benign vagabond, traveled extensively to satisfy his curiosity about other cultures, and was a migrant guest of various admirers of his work. That was his chosen lifestyle. Multilingual, he felt at home in...

(The entire section is 486 words.)