Study Guide

Archaic Torso of Apollo Speaker

By Rainer Maria Rilke

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We're not given much detail about the speaker in Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo," but by the end of the poem, we can piece together a vague picture of what he might be like. Well, he or she, we suppose. There's no clue as to gender, or age, or, well, anything at all. Part of that mysteriousness might be the fact that the speaker reaches out to all of us readers, and pulls us in. Very rapidly, we become the "speaker" of this poem; notably, Rilke uses the pronouns "we" and "you" to draw us in. On one hand, the speaker is addressing him-herself with the "you," but on the other, we readers cannot help but see that pronoun and think, in a DeNiro-like fashion, "Are you talking to me?" Rather than giving us an image of a speaker, the poet makes the reader the focal point of the poem; it is as though you find yourself immediately sucked into a museum gallery, staring face-to-torso with Apollo.

So what does this say about the speaker? "We"-"You" are interested in art and aesthetics, clearly. "We" are also deeply concerned with the origin of art—is it natural, or is it artificial? Or does it somehow manage to be both? There's something about this statue's combination of human art and raw nature that touches "us," and "we" are affected deeply, and inspired to "change." As the poem suggests in lines 13-14, "we" are not alone in this world, and some greater force (Art? Nature? Beauty?) impels us to search deep within "ourselves" and reach for whatever's in there.

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