What is the exact meaning of the Ninth Elegy from Duino Elegies?

The meaning behing the Ninth Elegy from Duino Elegies is that human existence is appealing because life on earth is ephemeral.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Figuring out the exact meaning of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Ninth Elegy from Duino Elegies may not be possible. Someone reading the poem in the original German might interpret it differently than someone reading an English translation. The translation itself could lead to different meanings (none of them necessarily wrong),...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Figuring out the exact meaning of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Ninth Elegy from Duino Elegies may not be possible. Someone reading the poem in the original German might interpret it differently than someone reading an English translation. The translation itself could lead to different meanings (none of them necessarily wrong), depending on how the translator in question translated certain words. Finally, an exact meaning might be out of reach because it’s a poem. Poems, whatever language they are written in, tend to lead themselves to multiple meanings.

However, a general meaning of the Ninth Elegy can be expressed. The poem deals with the meaning of existence. It wonders why a being would choose to be a human if it could be something else, like a laurel. After all, a laurel probably won’t suffer as much as a human being. Apparently, the compulsion to be human is not easy to resist. “Everything here … keeps calling to us,” says Rilke in stanza three. The “fleeting world,” according to Rilke, is too alluring to turn down.

Indeed, part of the attraction of human existence is “trying to achieve” a kind of lastingness or something that’s permanent and concrete. Although, in the end, this is not possible, it is possible to “speak” and “bear witness” about what one has seen and felt on earth.

A human doesn’t have to speak about weighty things like love. In Rilke’s poem, speaking about simple things, like a rope maker or a potter, provide plenty of astonishment on their own.

In the final two stanzas, Rilke doubles down on the ephemeral meaning of his Ninth Elegy. He notes how earth rises within a person only to disappear and become “invisible.” Such transience is all a person should need for a fulfilling life.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on