Saturday, August 25, 2007

archaic torso of apollo (rainer maria rilke, 1907)

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we cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. + 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 + thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
+ 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.

(translated from the german by stephen mitchell)

one of my favorite sonnets, perhaps my very favorite. i wish i could read german for no reason other than to read this poem as rilke wrote it.

the poem speaks to me of the powers of mythic beauty, derived from nature by undoubtedly superstitious minds but minds still in tune to the nuances of the natural world.

religion, reason, + science may callous, rebut, + ignore these fundamental aesthetic perceptions, but they outlast the dogmas, arguments, + theories meant to contain them.

in certain sublime moments, we all sense these timeless impressions--poets + artists more often than the rest of us. it is these flashes of insight that have the power to change our lives.

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