Black Cat Summary and Analysis by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke- A Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, born in 1875, who had survived the phase of an unhappy childhood to be widely recognised as ‘one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets’ – Rainer Maria Rilke, the Master of Verse, is no less known.The poetically and artistically talented youth studied literature, art history, and philosophy in Prague and Munich until 1896 and finally finished his survival story in 1926.

Setting of Black Cat

A brilliantly layered poem with intense, deeply existential theme is what makes the poet stand out  as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modern writers. The phrases like ‘a ghost’, ‘thick black pelt’, ‘dark night howling’, throw light upon the darkness imbued in the poem. The ‘black’ cat has been acutely described by the master of verses in his own ‘black’ nature and inherently mystical way by blending the cat with beautifully dark emotions that leaves the reader with profound thoughts that how can a cat be described with such magical verses.

Poetic Devices in Black Cat

Alliteration-


  • “within this thick” (Stanza 1, Line 3)
  • pounds on the padded wall” (Stanza 2, Line 3)
  • as if awakened” (Stanza 4, Line 4)

Simile-  In Stanza 1, the invisible ghost is compared to a place, rather empty space where the sight echoes. In Stanza 2, ‘as a raving madman’ highlights the angry lunatic trait of the cat. Then in Stanza 3, the cat is made to wear the audience’s shoes. In the line of the poem comparing a man to a prehistoric fly, it only brought out the contrast between the man’s assumptions and the reality of his  power and wisdom when compared to a cat.
Contrast- Rilke juxtaposed the echoing of the sight from an invisible ghost with its total absorption and disappearance within the thick black pelt of a cat.

Style

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place         (A)
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here           (B)
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze   (A)
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:                 (B)

Critical Analysis of Black Cat

Still popular, the poem Black Cat portrays the cat as a mystical being engulfing the insignificant man. Rilke often worked with metaphors, metonymy and contradiction, which he has brilliantly made use of in this masterpiece. The phrase ‘the ghost’ instantly takes us to a place not relating to fear or anxiety but something which leaves us ‘awestruck’. It is an element used here to bridge the gap between material and spiritual world. This also brings out a contrast in the poet’s imagination where he initially describes ghost as being invisible but still its presence constitutes a sort of echoing and then ‘the thick black pelt’ of a cat absorbs the strong gaze which just disappears, no echoing there.
The phrases ‘raving madman’, ‘dark night’, ‘howling’ are as daunting as the ‘BLACK Cat’ itself. It will not be wrong to assume that Rilke is merely recommending a nice way to alleviate anger when he associates cat with pounding on the padded wall and then being ‘pacified’. In the third stanza, Rilke  represents the cat as an audience, implying that she watches and evaluates all that is tossed her way -the threatening looks and behaviour and eventually taking it all in.
Negating or at least re-organising some of the previous assumptions, the phrase ‘But all at once’ possibly shifts the entire dimension of the poem. When Rilke mentions, ‘she turns her face to yours’ he makes the reader realise that the cat has been, and is, more aware than we may know. Looking into those intense golden amber eyes whose gaze seeps right into the soul, is what makes one feel like a prehistoric fly or rather because there is much more to it beyond our thoughts and wisdom.

Tone of the Black Cat

The tone of the poem shifts when the ghost, projected as an invisible element is capable of echoing the sight while the thick black pelt of cat absorbs even the strongest gaze. The mere absence of any ray of light or the absorption of all the happiness from his childhood made Rilke’s imagination and the composition of the poem to revolve around that haunting darkness which led to the birth of an artistically talented poem by a poet as lyrical as Rilke and allowed him to use his power of verses to see beauty and pride even in ‘black’ and dark objects therefore lifting up the veil on the material and spiritual connection.

Central Idea of Black Cat

The central idea of the poem Black Cat is to make us realise the beauty and uniqueness of animals. Conveying the message that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, Rainer​ ​Maria​ ​Rilke has magically woven the poem to bring out the intense dark beauty of the considered-to-be-ugly black cat in a way that nobody has ever imagined and perhaps to awaken us to something mysterious and ineffable.
Conclusion- Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke is a poem which is a result of the out-of-box imagination and creates magic on paper using beautifully woven verses. This poem reflects the uniqueness of the animals and that no creature is less. It takes the reader into a world of profound imagination that he feels too small, almost like a fly staring into the deep dark soul of the cat. The strong gaze and golden amber eyeballs, send chills down the spine. The intense words make the readers experience a roller-coaster ride of emotions.