“Archaic Torso of Apollo” is a sonnet divided into four stanzas, the first two stanzas containing four lines each, the last two containing three each. In the original German, the first two stanzas follow an abba, cddc rhyme scheme, while the last two stanzas together follow an eef, gfg scheme. In the German version, each line averages ten syllables in length. As is characteristic of the work of Rainer Maria Rilke throughout the two volumes of New Poems, the title unambiguously states the poem’s subject matter, much as the title of a painted still life might refer the viewer directly to an object depicted therein.
In “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” the poet depicts an ancient fragment of a statue of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, of music, and of poetry. As one finds so often with the classical statuary now confined to museums, only the torso remains—the statue’s legs, arms, and head have long been missing, leaving the poet to conjecture how the whole statue once must have looked. In the first line of the poem, the poet begins to describe the torso before him by calling attention to what is now missing. Once the statue had a head from which Apollo’s eyes gazed forth brightly, “fabled eyes” about whose power the poet can now only wonder.
Yet the gaze that once must have been present in the statue’s eyes, Rilke suggests, still seems to shine from the surface of the torso. This...
(The entire section is 491 words.)