Rainer Maria Rilke

(4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926 / Prague / Czech Republic)

Archaic Torso of Apollo


We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Václav Z J Pinkava (6/26/2013 5:03:00 PM)

    Archaic Torso of Apollo

    We cannot know his legendary head
    wherein eye-apples ripened. Even so
    his torso's lasting candelabra-glow,
    in which his gaze, with light held back, instead

    holds fast and shines. Else scarcely would the curve
    of chest bedazzle you, soft gasped meanwhile
    loins could not draw a breath to bring a smile
    to that dark core of procreation's verve.

    If not, this stone would seem all too degraded
    under the shoulders to translucence faded
    without a glint of predatory mane;

    nor break the bars confining, out to range
    just like a star: for there is no domain
    hid from that gaze. It's time your life must change.

    (transl vzjp) (Report) Reply

  • Christopher Manuel Garc�a Vega (12/31/2009 12:34:00 AM)

    the poem seems to be suffused with the idea that a piece of art is a whole in itself. Rilke turns the beheaded Apollo into a living statue that at the end of the poem appears to be looking back at the admirer. there is this sensation that each part of the incomplete sculpture has a life of its own as the poet posits his eyes on them; and after a while this life that the poet communicates to the immobile statue is stolen by it to make a part of itself... (Report) Reply

  • Tony Best (10/9/2007 7:13:00 AM)

    Rilke wrote in german. One of my favorite poems, I love the last line 'you must change your life.' Rilke was a master. His years with Rodin certainly paid off, I love how he describes the torso. Also, the inner brillance, and how when looking at a masterpiece it reminds one of greek gods. (Report) Reply

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