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what are the meanings in Rilke's sonnet 12 of his sonnets to orpheus

Rainer Maria Rilke's “Sonnet 12” of The Sonnets to Orpheus provides a reflection on the limitations of humanity in knowing the reality that surrounds it. Humans walk through life in metaphors, making sense of their experiences the best they can, and reaching out for something more. When they reach out, the find God, Who is working in small ways to turn all obstacles aside. Like a farmer who trusts the earth to bring forth his crop, humans must trust God.

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“Sonnet 12” of Rainer Maria Rilke's The Sonnets to Orpheus is about how we human beings live in a reality we do not understand. The speaker begins with a request, or perhaps a command, inviting his audience to “greet that Spirit who can unify us!” (line 1). He is referring to God, and only He can bring human beings together and give meaning to their lives. For, as the speaker continues, “we live truly in metaphors” (line 2). We often fail to grasp the realities of the world around us, seeing them only through the lens of our own limited knowledge. Time passes slowly, “with small steps” (line 3), measuring each day of our lives.

Yet, the speaker claims, we have “no true bearings” (line 5). We do not really know where we have come from or where we are going. Yet “We somehow act as if we had” (line 6). We keep moving through life anyway, setting goals for ourselves, acting as if we knew what we were doing. The poet then inserts a metaphor; we are like an aerial, an antenna, reaching out into the distance to find a signal.

Then the speaker implies that as we reach out into what seems like “the vast, empty distance” (line 8), we do indeed find something or, better, Someone. We discover “Pure intensity” and a “music of energies” (line 9). We discover God. And somehow, in small ways, almost unnoticeable, He turns aside obstacles, both those we see and those we don't.

In the final stanza, the speaker offers another metaphor. The farmer does not worry about how the grains he sows become the crops he harvests. He trusts that the earth will do what it is supposed to. Therefore, the poet implies, we should not worry about how our lives will turn out, even knowing as little as we do, but rather we must trust God to bring us to fruitfulness.


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