Archaic Torso of Apollo

Marble statue of a male torso, circa 480–470 BCE. 132 cm. On display at Louvre in Paris. This is the actual torso that inspired Rilke’s poem.

by Rainer Maria Rilke



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.



From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell (New York: Modern Library), 1995. Read Mark Doty’s commentary on this poem, with its “sharpest last minute turn in sonnet history.”       +