Essay on In Search of Lost Perspective

Essay on In Search of Lost Perspective

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Often in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry (of which four poems shall henceforth be examined), the speaker discusses the other, some existence far removed from the typical experience by a lack of humanness, or simply a minority perspective. Yet the speaker does not presume to take this outside perspective onto himself; rather, he emphasizes its extraneous nature. Through this emphasis, he points out and challenges the audience’s assumptions about the typicality of their own reality, namely, the subconscious associations between their everyday lives and the concept of ‘the everyday.’ By relating the perspectives of such beings as panthers or those perished too soon, Rilke’s speakers force the audience to reevaluate whether their mundane objects — the senses, intellect, creativity, even consciousness — are in fact mundane and not truly fantastical.
“The Archaic Torso of Apollo” presents a headless statue for the audience’s perusal, without a face with which one can identify. Yet this same lacking bolsters the statue’s appearance, for if the head was there, “the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could / a smile run through the placid hips and thighs” (Archaic Torso, ll. 6-7). Thus the first hint at the deception of sight: eyes, in tandem with brains, automatically isolate one element of a thing and focus upon it, blurring the rest. Only when the usual focus is gone can one truly take in all other aspects as they are, unbiased by the contrived perspective of pre-made assumption (one might also suggest an implication of the saying that “every loss is a gain,” even though the poem predates the quote, coined after Rilke’s death in 1926).
And it is not only through sight that one may ‘see.’ How else can it be that, where the statu...

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...he high achievers” (Sonnet 25, ll. 4, 7). The speaker has thus placed her with the immortals, those who have managed by their lives to inspire others in remembering them; but her talent cost her dearly. Great life was matched in her by great death, shadows that “Again and again, interrupted” her with “darkness and downfall,” until finally she succumbed to illness and “entered the hopelessly open portal” (Sonnet 25, ll. 12, 14). Though the girl did not have a choice in her end and posthumous life, the speaker suggests to his audience that they do; this is the final aspect separating people from beasts and all other things without consciousness. Humans have the power to influence their existence, not only in the present, but the future as well. Every decision is a statement of will: ‘I shall be remembered thusly;’ ‘omit this;’ ‘make this a monument to my ideals;’ etc.

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