Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Apollo was the god of the sun, of music, and of poetry; consequently, he came to be associated with principles of order, rationality, and harmony. Certainly Rilke would have expected his readers to be familiar with these associations, yet, while nothing in the poem explicitly denies them, it is interesting to note that his presentation of the god comes wholly in terms of the torso’s immediate visual impact. Other than the “fabled eyes” mentioned in the second line, the poet apparently brings no preconceptions of Apollo to the torso. The message “imparted” by the torso seems to spring solely from the poet’s sensuous apprehension of it, and the degree to which Rilke’s presentation of Apollo coincides with the attributes traditionally assigned to the god is worth some consideration.

Rilke dedicated New Poems (1908): The Other Part “To my great friend August Rodin.” In the years preceding the publication of the book, Rilke had served as a secretary at the sculptor’s studio in Paris. Before meeting Rodin, Rilke had been chiefly a lyrical poet, writing poems focused primarily on his own inner moods. Unlike a poet, however, a sculptor cannot make his art solely from subjective feelings but must pay close attention to the materials with which he works. Being exposed to Rodin caused Rilke to consider a kind of poetry that dealt with the substantial qualities of things in much the way sculpture does. It follows, then, that in some of...

(The entire section is 413 words.)