Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Rilke was in his late thirties when he wrote “The Spanish Trilogy.” In 1910, he completed his novel Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, 1930), felt exhausted, and wondered whether he could continue writing. Another major project, Duineser Elegien (1923; The Duino Elegies, 1930), was also proving more difficult than expected, and, at the time of his trip to Spain, Rilke was entertaining alternative career plans. For this reason, some critics have interpreted “The Spanish Trilogy” as dealing specifically with the “processes of poetry, as Rilke experienced them,” as a three-stage description of the creative process: First, poets have an intense experience; second, they struggle with the materials of that experience; and third, they feel the satisfaction of successfully converting the essence of the experience into a permanent form, a poem that effectively communicates their sensations and perceptions to others. While this approach is too narrow to do justice to the entire poem, it does have merit. Rilke had written a short prose piece a year earlier titled “über den Dichter” (about the poet), in which he describes a situation that presented itself as an allegory for the role of the poet. Sailors rowing a becalmed boat upstream are energized when a man standing at the bow bursts into song. His voice connects them with the distant goal that only he can see. The poet, for...

(The entire section is 502 words.)