Thursday, March 18, 2010

Early Poetry Friday: Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo

This is one of my favorite poems. All because of the killer last line. (More on that later.)

Photo from the official site of the musée du Louvre.

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.

the rest is here. (Then come back and tell me what you think of that last line. I have it taped to my laptop, and every day I look at it and it speaks the truth to me.)

----Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The original poem in German, as well as a different translation, is here.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Stacy at Some Novel Ideas.  I'll try to check in as I can around my school visits and book panels for The Virginia Festival of the Book


  1. I love visiting your house on Poetry Friday. Thanks for sharing this. That last line IS a doozy.


  2. Sara, what a gift this poem is to me today! I was not expecting a call to action, or an ekphrastic poem to make me feel so empowered. Will revisit. Awesome translation. THANK YOU. And looking forward to meeting you in VA!!

  3. Oh my, I'm not sure I am in a place emotionally where I can succinctly sum up how this poem makes me feel, as I have just been sitting here in not-quite-but-almost-despair considering what I want my novel WIP to become and what it is right now.

    I am forging on, counting on the fact that the glimmer of what it should become is in me, is an echo of all those great works I have been changed by through the years, and if I keep working it will become what it should be.

    Thank you for pointing me toward this poem today, Sara.

  4. Lots to ponder in this powerful poem. The call to action came as a surprise. Yes, it speaks the truth!

  5. God, I love that poem. That last line is, indeed, a whopper. Hadn't read it in such a long time.

  6. Another "Oooh" reaction here. Thanks for this poem. Every once in awhile I reread Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. This poem made me think that now would be a good time to go back and read that book.

    Laura Evans

  7. Sara,

    If you haven't seen it already, you might enjoy reading this article (and yet another translation of the poem) by poet Art Beck. He argues against the most widely accepted translation of the last line, the one you love. It's a long look at the poem, plus a few other things about/by Rilke, so it needs to be saved for a quiet minute or ten, but it's interesting. I don't think the last line he comes up with is very satisfying - and it's nowhere near as startling as the traditional one. The book Peck refers to by William Gass, READING RILKE, is excellent.

  8. Oops, I forgot the link!

  9. Thanks, all for confirming my reaction to that last line. I don't think it ever diminishes.

    And Julie, thank you so much for that link. I'll have to reserve a few minutes today to read and think about it.

  10. There is something glowing in that torso that inspires and lightens everything around. So glad to be reminded what glory we carry. Thanks!

  11. Love this lush poem, Sara. Thanks! Besides the last line, my favorite is

    and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:


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