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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Perhaps the most striking device Rilke uses in this poem is that of the double metaphor. Buddha himself is an image of spiritual perfection and expanded consciousness, but Rilke adds a second level of metaphor by comparing the statue of Buddha to the living system of the almond. The technique of embodying spiritual meaning in a specific physical object (often an artwork of some kind) is typical of many of the poems in New Poems. In this case, Rilke complicates matters further by using a metaphor from the natural world (the almond) to explicate the vital spiritual significance of the sculpture, which in turn symbolizes the perfected consciousness of Buddha himself. Sitting silently and self-contained at the center of time and space, Buddha resembles the seed or kernel at the center of the almond. This usually limited germ or nucleus expands along with Buddha’s consciousness to encompass all of space, including the starry skies, as well as all of time as the almond’s (and Buddha’s) physical shell swells into infinity. The almond’s casing (or Buddha’s body) no longer serves to limit the consciousness it contains. The metaphors allow the spiritual world to subsume the physical world and thus to eliminate all physical boundaries. The idea of perfected spirituality is embodied in the perfectly taciturn statue but then linked to a natural image that can grow to include all of time and space. By describing the unfolding of his image, Rilke is able to...

(The entire section is 473 words.)