Study Guide

Archaic Torso of Apollo Spirituality

By Rainer Maria Rilke

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And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside (2-3)

The notion of inner light suggests a spiritual quality that transcends the physical limitations of this artwork.

a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared. (7-8)

Whoa there, you're probably thinking—this line is about sex, not spirituality. But these things aren't necessarily disconnected in this poem. There's something mystical about the "dark center where procreation flared"—the speaker reminds us both that the gods supposedly gave us life, and that we humans give ourselves life.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur (9-11)

The stone is not defaced by its fragmented state—that is to say, it still retains an element of divinity and of spiritual power. Interestingly, this allows it to "glisten like a wild beast's fur," suggesting that some of its power is tied to the natural world. This gives us some clues about the unconventional notion of spirituality the poem might suggest.

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. (12-14)

First the celestial image of the star, then we get the idea that there is some higher power that sees us indicate that there's some greater force at work here. We, as humans, are just parts of a world that's bigger than us.

You must change your life. (14)

What is spirituality if not a path, a mode of guidance? The spiritual nature of contemplation in this poem is most clearly revealed by this impetus to change.

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