A Survey Of Figures of Speech Found Rilke’s Poetry

Rilke is a famous German poet who has modernized poetry. His poems are intensely subjective and poetically lyrical. He has written on many themes like religion, elegies, nature and love.

‘I find you Lord in all things and in all, in a tiny seed and you sleep in what is small’. This is a beautiful metaphoric comparison. God is placed within a tiny seed. We can also look at this metaphor from the Bible. For example: if you have faith as a mustard seed’. God sleeps in the seed and makes it grow and flower.

‘A wondrous game that power plays groping in roots and growing thick in trunks and in tree tops like rising from the dead’. Here power is compared to the rising of the dead. May be Rilke makes intrusions into religion. It is true in Christianity that dead will rise and resurrect. The roots and trunks of the trees are considered to be risen and resurrected.

A simile used by Rilke is: ‘a star that beams like a white city’. This is a beautiful comparison, so poignant with richness and depth of thought.

‘Lord it is time; the huge summer has gone by, now overlap the sundials with your shadows’. Here Rilke makes a reference to God being present with the temporality of time’s spaces.

‘The sky puts on the darkening blue coat’. This is a beautiful metaphor that suggests the ending of evening and the coming of the night.

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‘Every morning when sunlight comes into your house, you welcome it as a friend’. Rilke is using personification. Sunlight is portrayed in anthropomorphic terms.

‘Blood is the hardest, hard as stone’. The metaphor shows that humans are cold blooded and have no feelings that are humane.

‘My soul has no garden, no sun in it hangs on my twisted skeleton and terrified it flaps its wings.’ Here Rilke uses multiple metaphors to bring out the angst of the body. There is no garden of beauty in the soul; there is no glistening sun in Rilke’s body. Though this metaphor, Rilke brings out the pathos of the human body.

‘My hands are not of much use; they are like toads after the rain’. All of your features pass in simile’. Here Rilke is talking about a dwarf. The simile like toads in the rain is a puzzling one and I think it is incongruous.

‘Yet wholly images like the ark of God’. The ark of God refers to God’s tabernacle. May be it’s a simile making an allusion to the purity of the body.

‘Whirling faster and faster, fans her dress into passionate flames from which like startled rat-snakes, the long naked arms uncoil.’ Here Rilke makes a reference to a dancer. The comparison is an interesting one. Her dress is like flames and her arms like rat-snakes.

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‘His senses felt as though they were split into two; his sight would race ahead of him like a dog’. This simile is a zany one. Does Rilke mean that he will be able to see quickly?

‘She had come into new virginity and was untouchable; her sex had closed like a young flower at nightfall’. The comparison, a simile between the young girl and the flower is an interesting one.

‘We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit and yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside like a lamp.’ Here Rilke is making similes about God Apollo. The eyes are sparkling and ravishing. The torso of Apollo is compared to a shining lamp.

‘A shriek, envy shakes the parrot cage.’ Here Rilke is using the figure of speech called personification.

‘The gravity of some old discontent has dragged you back to measurable time-this often startles me out of dreamless sleep at night like a thief climbing in my window.’ Here the comparison made between sleep being a thief is a hazy one. The simile is not lacks sensibility.

‘You beloved, who are all the gardens, I have ever gazed at’. This metaphor is similar to the romantic verses of King Solomon, the Song of Songs.


by Bose Anand