New Poems

“Archaic Torso of Apollo,” one of this book’s most famous poems, ends with the statue telling the viewer, “You must change your life.” This Rilke attempted to do by turning his sympathies outward, away from the interior feelings and moods expressed in his earlier works. In the ninety-six poems of NEW POEMS: THE OTHER PART--composed in a prodigious creative burst from August, 1907, to August, 1908--he complemented his already masterful grasp of word-music, rhythm, and meter with a new quest to portray “not feelings but things I had felt.” He was inspired by Auguste Rodin, whom he served as a private secretary, to capture the irreducible essence of reality in words as the French sculptor sought to do in marble.

Indeed, images of statues abound in these poems. Yet the poet hints at the pain and longing he perceives beneath the facades of everyday things and people. Through his poems he enters their lives--a faded old woman, a lonely bachelor, an agonized saint, even flamingos standing “lightly twisted on pink stems.” Despite his broadened empathy, however, Rilke never entirely lost the sense of isolation that had haunted him from childhood. In fact, this theme receives consummate expression in “The Solitary,” in which a statue heeds “only its own inner gravity/while the distances that silently destroy it/force it on to an ever deeper bliss.”

Critics agree that translator Edward Snow, of Rice University, expertly renders the rhythms, meanings, and swift syntax of Rilke’s German originals (shown facing each translation). Snow won the Harold Morton Landon Award from the Academy of American Poets for his translation of Rilke’s preceding volume, NEW POEMS (1907).