Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “The Spanish Trilogy” in Ronda, Spain, between January 6 and 14, 1913. He had seen El Greco’s dramatic painting of Toledo in 1911 and made the trip to Spain to see the landscape. The opening lines of the poem capture his great enthusiasm for the rugged countryside, which is full of movement and charged with portent on a windy night. Rilke’s engrossment in the landscape is reflected structurally in the complex, long first sentence of the poem, which spans all twenty-four lines of part 1. Its repeated prepositional phrases beginning with “from” convey a sense of involvement in an active, synthetic process, the purpose of which is revealed in an infinitive clause without subject: “to make one Thing.” Something is happening to the poet. In a moment of heightened awareness, he becomes one with his surroundings. His impassioned language, “Lord Lord Lord,” reveals his rush of ecstacy. His clever closing simile, comparing the “Thing” with a meteor, emphasizes the speed and significance of the occurrence.
Part 1 is written in a rhythmic iambic pentameter without rhyme. In the original German, all lines have a masculine ending except for the last line, whose extra, unaccented syllable gives a sense of graceful completion to the last word: “arrival.” Part 2 is, by comparison, more introspective, more involved in the human condition. Its twenty-two lines are divided into three stanzas. The poet has been in the...
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