20 February 2014 Behind the Bars: Ranier Maria Rilke’s “The Panther” Many examples of poetry tend to leave readers with a need for understanding, as is the case with Rainer Maria Rilke’s “The Panther”. In order to do this, readers must look at the poem on a simplistic level, and begin to make analytical interpretations based on the details both in and around the poem. Some of these details include tone, which in this case is very sympathetic. The tone of this poem may help to reveal a larger metaphor or decipher the intention of the poem. In this case, the sympathetic tone of the poem helps put the reader into the panther’s shoes, which helps makes the connection between a caged zoo animal and human beings. Rilke’s “The Panther” aims to compare human dilemma with the caging of a zoo animal through metaphors. Because of the title, and connotation, it is very clear that the poem is talking about a panther. In the first stanza, it is explaining that it’s living its life behind these bars that it sees every day, and it is getting tired of it. It also expresses that the panther does not feel like its part of anything when Rilke writes, “a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.” This is essentially explaining that the panther does not feel like it is part of what it perceives to be the world. It was taken out of its natural habitat, and put into one that is meaningless. The following stanza shows how the panther’s behavior is very related to its captivity. Rilke writes, “As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,/the movement of his powerful soft strides/is like a ritual dance around a center/in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.” In the first like, he uses the phrase “cramped circles” in order to emphasize that the panther does not have as much room as it needs in order to move freely. This ties back into the original notion that the panther is not part of the outside world, because it doesn’t even have enough room to make an impact. The first line also uses the phrase “over and over” to reinforce the idea that the panther does not have an impact. It has become a routine for the panther to pace in these cramped circles because of its captivity, and it doesn’t really have anything else to do. The second line expresses that the panther still retains many of its characteristics, despite being treated like it doesn’t. The “powerful soft strides” indicates a characteristic that may be used to describe the motion of a wild panther, but the poet uses it in order to describe the motion of a captive one. The last two lines may be the most significant of this stanza. They are expressing the how the panther was stripped of its freedom, which is represented by “a might will stands paralyzed.” The panther has the will to be free, to be in its natural habitat and be part of the world it sees beyond the bars. But its will is paralyzed by those very bars he sees every day, and it has come to accept this. This acceptance is illustrated by the phrase, “a ritual dance around a center.” When individuals perform ritual dances, they are doing it because they believe in something. If this paralyzed will stands in the middle of the panther’s ritual dance, then he must accept that his will is indeed contained.
The final stanza showcases a very minor exception to the routine mentioned in the second stanza; however, it also expresses a loss of hope in the panther. Rilke writes “Only at times; the curtain of the pupils/ lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,/ rushes down the tensed, arrested muscles,/ plunges into the heart and is gone.” The line signals that the panther opens his eyes “only at times,” which indicates that something must trigger this. It may be suspected that it is the opening of its cage, as when it sees that happening, it begins to feel like it may finally be let free. This feeling of finally having is freedom is referred to as “rushes down the tensed, arrested