How does Rilke depict childhood in his poem "Childhood"? Is it a happy period?

Rilke depicts childhood in his poem "Childhood" as a passive state in which things happen to children in the same way as they do to things and creatures. It was clearly not a happy period for the speaker, not least because it was a very lonely time.

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One should always exercise extreme caution in treating a poem as an exercise in autobiography. However, in the case of Rilke in “Childhood” it's a perfectly valid approach given that autobiographical elements often crop up in his poetry, and that his childhood was notoriously unhappy.

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One should always exercise extreme caution in treating a poem as an exercise in autobiography. However, in the case of Rilke in “Childhood” it's a perfectly valid approach given that autobiographical elements often crop up in his poetry, and that his childhood was notoriously unhappy.

Childhood is presented to us by Rilke as not a lot of fun. As he tells us, it was a period of his life when nothing ever happened to him except that which happens to things and creatures. The reduction of a child to the status of a mere thing or creature is an indication perhaps that the speaker was ill-treated as a child. At the very least, we can reasonably conclude that it wasn't a happy, carefree childhood.

More than anything else, the speaker was “lonely as a shepherd” when he was a child, overburdened by the vast distances that separated him from adulthood. Childhood is supposed to be a preparation for adulthood, yet in the case of the speaker, he simply moves from one lonely, meaningless state to another.

And the speaker's childhood most certainly was meaningless, itself a damning indictment on his upbringing. Sometimes he's reminded of his childhood by the rain, but even then he cannot say what it means.

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