You must change your life.

Archaic Torso of Apollo
[Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell]

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.


An amazing poem, and an amazing talk about it by Mark Doty. A moment from that talk:

“Having read this poem hundreds of times, I remain startled by that final gesture. I feel something has taken place that I am and am not prepared for…

Imagine if this poem came to us without its final sentence. If the poem ended, ‘for here there is no place that does not see you,’ it’s not bad, is it? We’d be left with the sense that we are perceived by the work of art. But the profound sense of culmination would be missing. That final statement becomes a completion of all those figures we’ve been given by saying, ‘This is so powerful that you cannot stay out of it.’

Up until that last point in the poem, I think we can stay out of it. We can enjoy the active description, but we’re not necessarily implicated.”

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