Study Guide

Archaic Torso of Apollo Awe and Amazement

By Rainer Maria Rilke

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Awe and Amazement

First and foremost, before all its deep metaphysical and aesthetic questions really hit home, "Archaic Torso of Apollo" is a poem about how awesome and amazing art is. The speaker is dazzled, awestruck, floored, gobsmacked, codswolloped (yes, that's totally a word) by how beautiful and powerful this statue is, even in its fragmented and reduced state. He basically spends the whole poem talking about how shockingly energetic and weirdly alive it is—which is totally weird, if you really think about the fact that he's just looking at a torso carved out of marble. But that's the thing about awe (and about beauty)—you can't quite explain it. No, the torso isn't actually radiating light. No, it's not really bursting with energy like a star. But to the speaker, it's so beautiful it feels that way, and that's what matters.

Questions About Awe and Amazement

  1. Why do you think the speaker doesn't actually describe the sculpture in this supposedly descriptive poem?
  2. What's the deal with all the negative grammatical formations here? For example, the phrases that follow "Otherwise…" (5, 9)—why not use positive constructions here?
  3. What do you think the speaker means by the phrase, "here there is no place / that does not see you" (13-14)? What might this have to do with the sensation of awe?

Chew on This

The speaker's awe upon gazing at the statue of Apollo is transmitted through the lack of direct description; his use of unconventional similes communicates his inability to accurately describe this aesthetic experience. Sure words fail him, but that's a good thing.

The speaker's sensation of awe and amazement comes through most directly in his use of images of light and radiance. That inexplicable "brilliance from inside" (3) that he describes is related to his own response to this work.

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