A portrait of poet Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926) painted two years after his death by Leonid Pasternak

Ekphrastic poetry is the tantalizing intersection of the art of poetry and the visual arts. HERE‘s an example of one mine that draws on both art and a traditional Chinese Buddhist allegory.

The poem featured below is by Rainer Marie Rilke (1875-1926), Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist. I am particularly enamoured of it.

The translation is by Stephen Mitchell  and is the best I’ve read. Find the poem in Mitchell’s translation of The Selected Poetry of Rainer Marie Rilke.

There are many stunning features to Archaic Torso of Apollo. It’s certainly meditative and almost prayerful and yet if it is a prayer it is oddly delivered to a dead and broken god. The poem suggests wholeness even though the statue is fragmented. Perhaps most striking, we are somewhat surprised by the turn the Rilke takes in the end.

You will note also that this poem is not simple physical observation. It recognizes something that is part of our history, our culture and mythology, and yet somehow is not earthbound. It points to the ethical and ineffable.

Archaic Torso of Apollo

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.

– Rainer Marie Rilke

The photograph of the Rilke portrait is in the public domain.


This week pick one of your favorite works of art to write about. Take your time and enjoy the exercise. If you feel comfortable, share your poem or a link to it in the comments section below.  All work shared on theme will be published here next Tuesday.



  1. Thanks Jamie.One response….

    ..the flight to egypt..

    Edwin Longsden Long RA was an English genre, history, and portrait painter.


    there are many pictures at this house, two dimensional and more. how can I love one

    child above another?

    I had only one, so that was easy, then questioned if I loved the late arrival more, I said no just different.

    so I talk out loud instead of writing .

    a new prose. I talk of formative years, the safe place.

    russell coates museum. have you been there? it was free on thursdays a haven from the rain,



    indoor fish pond, quiet on the stairs, to the edwin long gallery. the flight to egypt. looking

    back now, I never thought of it religious. immense it covered the wall.

    I use the past tense, yet it is still in place.

    on googling I see the topic is biblical, I remember the procession, the faces, the space as

    if his meaning was hidden to me.

    now by choice it is.

    do I make such pictures? no.

    weird stuff as if installed in a museum.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. in Iris Murdoch

    the characters for the most part
    get themselves into such a muddle
    usually intent on mirroring
    the messes & muddles of others
    closely observed by scheming clowns
    with special peculiar insights

    how will they get out of the muddle?
    a question which keeps you entranced
    turning the pages rapidly
    never really wanting an unravelling

    no linearity just sets of closed circles
    of rather bizarre impossibility

    occasionally a character will experience
    a bright moment of illumination
    or clarity which I have come to call
    the specificity of the ordinary:
    the cat on the terrace dust particles
    lizard on a sunny bank
    bare gritty floorboards leaves in the wind
    ivy climbing on a rock as it might be
    to refer it all to myself measuring
    the impact of the ordinary

    if only the characters had listened
    to their author’s commentary
    more carefully they might all have been
    able to rescue themselves

    Liked by 1 person

  3. the moses manifest

    he grips the tablets in his charge, this
    courier of commandmenta, and takes umbrage or looks
    askance at some person or
    persons on
    his left. on his head
    are zigguratish lumps,
    horns, that should have been
    unsculptable rays of
    light. julius the pope, the vicar
    of christ, has left
    his mortal remains entombed
    here, and moses to guard
    them. the likeness
    of julius was to be
    the capstone of the tomb
    but it was never
    done. the militant pope
    had need of his hireling
    visionary elsewhere,
    as plasterer and muralist
    for a now-renowned chapel.
    the tomb was finished in 1545,
    decades after julius’s promotion
    to resident of Heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

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