Study Guide

Archaic Torso of Apollo Sound Check

By Rainer Maria Rilke

Sound Check

Okay… so, we're not gonna lie, but the sound check on this poem gets a little sticky, considering that it's a translation from the original German. Basically, what we get in most translations of poetry is some version of both the form and content of the original. In this case, we've chosen a translation that elegantly offers English readers a clear version of Rilke's text. Unfortunately, what doesn't come through in the text is the authentic sound and feeling of this poem (including its sometimes rather unexpected rhymes). However, we're still all about this beautiful translation, which does its utmost to stick to the original in feeling, if not in exact parameters.

What Mitchell's translation does so beautifully is reproduce some of unexpected beauty and meditative rhythm of Rilke's poem. The original poem has a clear rhyme scheme (see "Form and Meter" for more on that), but Rilke's rhymes are rendered surprising and not entirely clear at times through his unexpected enjambment and long phrases. Mitchell does something like this in his version, in which rhymes pop up when you least expect them ("torso" in line 2 with "low" in line 4; "Otherwise" in line 5 with "thighs" in line 7), and you may not even notice them there until you read the poem aloud.

So what's the overall effect of this? Well, to us, the sound of this poem goes beautifully with its setting. We imagine the speaker (and the reader) in a dark, peaceful museum gallery, contemplating the beautiful statue. The poem's slow rhythms and short stanzas sound to us like someone musing to themselves—and, seemingly by chance, stumbling upon the musical turns of phrase and delightfully surprising rhymes that come to them in the spirit of the moment. There's a quality of interior monologue here, but don't forget, the poem is not just the speaker talking to him or herself—it's the speaker talking to "you." So there's a quality of performance here; this isn't just a guy talking to himself in a museum. Instead, maybe it's a guy talking to himself in a museum on stage, or maybe in a film about a guy in a museum. Think Hamlet's soliloquies, or any other performance in which an actor combines a sense of interiority with an awareness that he's also talking to those of us who are witnessing his performance.

Sound intense? Well, it is. Pretty much anything that ends with the line "You must change your life" is bound to be.

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