Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Buddha in Glory” is a poem about the triumph of the spiritual world over the physical world. Buddha himself symbolizes this triumph. Buddha’s perfected and all-encompassing consciousness allows him to merge with all of existence. The suns are now his suns; the rays of the heavens are his. Rilke thus succeeds in embodying in his poem a very complex mystical experience of spiritual perfection, of the attainment of Buddhahood. While it would be extremely difficult for a poet to explain such an experience to a reader in discursive language, Rilke manages to capture this mystical fulfillment in a striking image (the almond) drawn from the natural realm more familiar to the reader.

The tone of the poem is one of admiration. The persona of the poem greets and celebrates Buddha and his spiritual accomplishments. The persona recognizes that Buddha has achieved the purification of consciousness that allows him to merge with all of existence, to burn with a spiritual intensity that will outlast the sun itself. The sculptor has captured this spirituality in his sculpture just as nature captures it in the perfection of its fruits. Rilke now attempts to do the same in his poem. In a gesture of unification reminiscent of German Romanticism, Rilke manages to merge the aesthetic world (the sculpture), the world of spirit (Buddha’s consciousness), and the natural world (the almond) in a single image of metaphysical wholeness. Rilke creates in his poem something of...

(The entire section is 470 words.)