The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke Characters

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The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke Summary & Study Guide Description

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke.


This is most exceptional character. It is a literary device. At the same time, this provides a fulcrum to the poetry itself. Here, reader meets writer and vice versa. The character of the narrative voice is flexible. It is individual in each poem. The first example of its appearance as a grammatical entity, per se, is in the very first poem of the book. "I am, O Anxious one. Don't you hear my voice?," (p. 3). Here, the mysterious and clear grammatical connection between the 'I' and the "you" is present. Later in the same poem, this type of arrangement occurs again. "If you are the dreamer, I am what you dream," (p. 3). What readers can tell is that there is this "I" and this "you." Every reader functions within a role of the "you" and yet simultaneously stands outside of and beyond the poetry. In that regard it is a bit like playing the role of the "you."

Meanwhile, the author plays the role of the "I." To some extent he may also be the "you." The "I" may be the narrative voice. Here, readers face a common question: is the poet the narrator, or is the poet wearing masks? Ten pages later, the Narrator writes objectively, but still includes readers and perhaps an imaginary companion- someone who is in the role of the "you" required for interaction. In the poem "Evening," there is the invisible narrative voice in that the description is rather objective. "The sky puts on a darkening blue coat/.../you watch," (p. 13).

In the New Poems, during the long poem: "Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes," the Narrator has the powers of 3rd person omniscience- which means that this ephemeral entity can tell readers what a poem's characters are thinking, as well as what they are doing. To some degree, it makes sense to view this as a different Narrative character from the one found in the first poem. Again, this poet is the same but has changed due to the years between the first poem and this one. Because of this, it might be safe to write that the Narrator is both the same entity and is a different narrative character.


Orpheus appears in Sonnets to Orpheus. His name does not occur in each and every one of the sonnets, but in many of them. He also occurs in the poem Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes. During the sonnet labeled I-5, readers are shown this clearly, "Erect no gravestone to his memory; just / let the rose blossom each year for his sake. / For it is Orpheus. /../ When there is poetry, / it is Orpheus singing.../.../ ...don't you understand?," (p. 233). Here is the combination of the character of Orpheus, as a third party used together with the character "you" mentioned above.

Orpheus is not ever described during the poetry in the same manner that he would be in a dictionary. However, he is introduced accurately by the poet. For those who do not already know, Orpheus was an actual person. He lived in Greece before the life of Jesus the Christ. Orpheus was not a religious figure; he was famed for being a musician. During the era and culture within which he lived, music always included many elements of poetry. In fact, this has not changed; however, the form of the music and of the lyric or song poem, has experienced some alteration according to the development of different instruments and verse forms and rhythms associated with one kind of music or another. Obviously, the lyric is not an integral part of every musical form, but is with respect to many. In the simplest of terms: it makes sense that a poet would pay such homage to Orpheus.

dear girl

This female entity is a center piece of this poem. She is called in many ways, but not by name. "Dear girl" is simply the first of the phrases used by which to address her. The poet addresses her in six ways, through the first two stanzas alone. The first five are all in relation to his own feelings for her. After that, there is a reference to her as a dancer.

She continues to be addressed in the later stanzas, but how this is done is not the same. Now she is described in relation to her own blood. Here, the poet gets into a description of natural rhythms that seem to indicate the recurrence of a woman's menstruation. There are shadows, and repetitious darkness. This could simply be nightfall and the dark times. It could just be the woman's menstruation. It could be the life in the shadows. In the end, Rilke describes how, despite the "down" of all this, the entire experience and female entity's energies emerge into the Spring. For this reason, it seems that this darkness might not be anything "evil" but simply is about cycles of life, and the pattern of night and day which repeats and in that respect is after the same manner that each menstrual period just ends but then repeats.


Here, women as a group are written of. This poem comes from the book Appendix to Duino Elegies. As such, it is an elegy. The poet asks about women, invites women in. Rilke begins by telling the women how he wishes they were in the same situation as the boys are in during the poem. Here, the women as a group function as the "you" of the poem.

In the first stanza the women are "the Women;" whereas, by the third stanza these same people are referred to as "you" as the poet's narrative voice continues to ask them questions. Women as a group are also characters in The Bird-Feeders and in the Requiem.

King Augustus

This King is referred to in one of the Elegies. These have been selected from the book Duino Elegies. He is written of as "King Augustus the Strong," (p. 175). He is only mentioned once in the elegy, and this is the poem in which the mention of him stands out so markedly. Rilke writes a line in which the ability of King Augustus to crush a pewter plate is compared to the way that time as "Duration" crushes all things and all men.


This character appears very briefly further on in the same elegy as King Augustus. This angel is a little boy, which he is called earlier in the elegiac form of poem. He is seen as having healing powers in the line, "Oh gather it, Angel, that small-flowered herb of healing," (p. 177). Rilke calls this same entity "lovely darling" and "you" later on in the same poem.


Children are characters in a number of the book's poems. This includes The Fifth Elegy. Called only "a girl" - this might be a child, in the poem The Gazelle. Children are included obtusely, where the "you" is actively directed to "childhood hours" in the poem Before Summer Rain. They also appear in other poems.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Here, the poet practices what is normally a visual art. He creates a self-portrait. In doing so, he drops the masks of the narrative voice and the characters that he creates to act within that narrative. He describes himself. This is the only poem in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke the he does this.

Rilke's Father

This is poetic portrait of the poet's father. As the title clearly shows, the poet is describing what his father was like when young. He paints an image of a handsome fellow dressed in a military uniform. At the end of poem, Rilke explains that he has written this based on a photograph. This locates the poem in history.

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