The poem “The Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke is written in the free verse form of poetry. As such, it is concerned with capturing images and delivering emotions (“Writing Free Verse"). The poet has chosen the length of each line purposefully, with the effect that a rhythm has been established despite the lack of rhyme. This rhythm has been created because the lines of the poem resemble the structural patterns of normal speech (“Writing Free Verse"). The flow that this grants the poem becomes evident when it is read aloud. The poet has also made another effort to establish the rhythm of the poem. Some poems use a capital at the beginning of each new line, whether the line is a new sentence or not. By choosing not to do this, Rilke avoids giving the appearance of a new sentence or idea at each new line. Instead, his use of minuscule letters at the start of each line allows the poem to be read as one continuous, rhythmic idea.
“The Panther” consists of three stanzas. The following is the first:
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.
A primary function of this first stanza is to establish the setting. Extensive and repetitive imagery of bars creates the setting. The words “constantly passing bars” (Rilke 1) forms the image of bars blurring past the panther; the panther’s vision has beheld the great quantity of bars for so long that it has “grown so weary…it cannot hold/anything else” (Rilke 2-3) . “A thousand bars” (Rilke, 4) further develops the imagery. This large number is likely an exaggeration and it works to intensify the ideas of stress and confinement that are associated with bars. The connotation of the repeated word “bars” creates the setting of a cage, without the word “cage” ever being actually mentioned. The last mention of bars (“and behind the bars, no world” (Rilke 4)) seems to offer a glimpse of the setting beyond the cage, but the prospects of life outside are as bleak as those within. As a result, the tension surrounding the confinement of the panther intensifies.
A second important function of the first stanza is the establishment of the voice. The voice is undramatized, meaning that its identity is not stated. The point of view of the voice is that of a subjective third-person, who is able to not only describe the physical aspect of the poem’s subject but also describe his emotions. This is clear when the voice describes the weariness of the panther in the second line of the poem. The voice, aware of how the cage has exhausted and frustrated the panther, makes a conscious attempt to view the situation through the panther’s weary eyes, clearly trying to empathize with it: “It seems to him there are/ a thousand bars”(Rilke 3-4). The word choice here is crucial to perceiving that underlying sympathizing attitude in the voice, an attitude that is evident throughout the...