The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Since the three parts of “The Spanish Trilogy” are different in tone and content, Rilke relies on structural similarities to unify the poem. Each of the three parts begins with anaphora. In part 1, lines 1, 3, and 5 proceed from the same preposition: “From this cloud,” “from these dark clustered hills,” and “from this stream in the valley.” Lines 2, 4, and 6 complement that with epistrophe, all ending with “(and from me).” Rilke has introduced the two main components, the landscape and the poet, from the left and the right and uses the rest of the stanza to combine them. In part 2, the first two stanzas begin with the identical rhetorical question “Why must a man.” In part 3, Rilke uses the repetition of “Let me” at the beginning of lines 1 and 4 to lead in the poet’s resolution. The anaphora at the beginning of each part of the trilogy helps to underline the sequence of the parts. First the poet has an extraordinary experience, then he has a period of questioning, and finally he decides his further course of action.

Rilke provides the reader with a wealth of images in the course of the poem. The image of the shepherd is given extended treatment in parts 2 and 3 and can also be inferred in part 1 from the mention of the flock. Yet Rilke cautions, in the coda, against seeking hidden meaning in the figure of the shepherd: “Let him be whomever you wish.” He is interchangeable, simply a means to an end. The poet is not so...

(The entire section is 514 words.)