The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Buddha in Glory” (or as one translator titles it, “The Buddha in the Glory”) is a short poem of twelve lines divided into three stanzas of four lines each. The original poem is predominantly in trochaic meter (with alternating stressed and unstressed final syllables in each line); it begins in trochaic pentameter and ends in trochaic tetrameter. The original German rhymes abab, cdcd, efef.

The poem’s title calls up visions of Eastern religion, mysticism, and meditation on the right path to Nirvana or salvation. Buddhism is a religion of eastern and central Asia that developed from the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The name Buddha is Sanskrit for “the enlightened”; the goal of the Buddhist is to arrive at a state of perfect spiritual fulfillment. This mental and moral self-purification is said to free one from the suffering that is inherent in life.

While Rilke undoubtedly had this religious history in mind as he wrote the poem in Paris in the summer of 1908, he was also probably working from a particular statue of Buddha that was located in the garden of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, to whom Rilke was personal secretary for several years. Rilke described this sculpture in a letter to his wife Clara on September 20, 1905:Then the huge blossoming starry night is before me, and below, in front of the window, the gravel path goes up a little hill on which, in fanatic silence, a statue of Buddha rests, dispensing, with...

(The entire section is 562 words.)