Study Guide

Archaic Torso of Apollo The Natural World

By Rainer Maria Rilke

The Natural World

Even though this statue is really a hunk of stone (or a hunk carved out of stone—get it?), it still seems to have a kind of vivid animation of its own. Rilke uses a series of similes to depict the statue's quality of natural life, as though it came into being on its own, rather than being made by human hands.

  • Line 2: The statue's head is lost, but Rilke still tries to describe what it would have been like (even though the word he uses in German—"unerhörtes"—can literally be translated as "unheard of," Mitchell calls it "legendary"). The eyes we'll never see are rendered through simile as "like ripening fruit." (Actually, in the original German, it's "Augenäpfel," or "eye-apples.")
  • Line 11: Another simile compares the statue's surface to "a wild beast's fur." This comparison communicates the stone's vivid quality; far from being cold and inanimate, this sculpture is full of warm, animal life.
  • Line 14: One final simile goes beyond the flora and fauna categories, comparing the statue to a "star," radiating light and energy. This is still a natural phenomenon, but one that gets a little more into metaphysical territory. The work of art being described here is both like the earthly things it's compared to earlier, but it also transcends them.