Monday, January 4, 2010

A Favorite Ekphrastic Poem for the New Year


 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.

Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Stephen Mitchell


  1. Love it. The last line is an anthem.

  2. Mari, I agree! The line certainly influenced me to give up my job with Amnesty International and start graduate school all over again ...out West. And that has made all the difference...

  3. I am embracing Rilke's sentiment wholeheartedly these days... it's necessary! Glad to learn that it's been helpful to you as well.

    In my comment to another post, in which I recommended Allison Benis White's book: the poems weren't so much inspired by Degas as they were built using Degas's paintings as springboards, if that makes any sense...

  4. Hi Mari,

    Yes, that does make sense. I don't know the book but it sounds very interesting. I'd love to take a look at it at some point. Thanks for mentioning it again.

  5. does anyone know the actual name of the statue? Or the name of the sculptor who made it?

  6. Hi there,
    The name really is "Archaic Torso of Apollo" and it is at the Louvre where Rilke went to view it while he was working in Paris for Rodin.

  7. You have a really great site here. Have enjoyed exploring it. Thanks for taking the time to keep it going. And that poem is terrific.